By Juliana Gonzalez, Healthy Watersheds Program Manager
The Community Stewardship Grants started in 2002 as a partnership between The Watershed Project and the Department of Conservation as a way to seed watershed groups in Contra Costa County. The idea was so successful that after the grant ended, the Contra Costa County Public Works Watershed Program decided to fund its continuation in unincorporated Contra Costa County. The Community Stewardship Grants have been a lifeline for community groups throughout unincorporated Contra Costa County ever since.
During the last five years, the grants have been distributed through a competitive process administered by The Watershed Project. Funds for these grants come from storm water utility assessment fees in the unincorporated zones of Contra Costa County. This year the partnership has grown and the County’s Clean Water Program has pitched in $20,000 to fund the 2012 grant cycle, bringing the grand total to $100,000 available. This significant pot of money will make a big impact on many community groups over the next year. Eighty percent of the funds are designated to projects in unincorporated areas of the County, and 20% will go to groups working in incorporated cities.
The program goals are to build a partnership between nonprofit organizations and the government to help improve water quality in rivers and streams throughout the county. Both the Watershed Project and the County Watershed Program recognize that the health of our watersheds cannot be protected by the government or by individuals working alone. Protecting our precious waterways takes many people working together.
The State of California Water Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have helped regulate the amount of pollutants that enter the Bay by providing guidelines for municipalities to reduce their contributions to pollutant levels in the bay. These regulations are called the Municipal Regional Permits (MRP) and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Within the framework of these regulations, the grants provide a way for the municipalities to find partners that can help foster watershed stewardship and address stormwater pollutants of concern including trash, pesticides, mercury, PCBs and copper.
In recent years, Low Impact Design (LID) has emerged as an innovative way of treating storm water. The community stewardship grants do include projects such as rain gardens, bioswales, rain harvesting and other green infrastructure solutions that reduce surface runoff and the amounts of water going into the storm drain system.
The grants have also helped fund capacity building for watershed groups, watershed awareness and appreciation campaigns, stormwater and pollution prevention education, watershed planning, Integrated Pest Management awareness programs, native plant gardening education/outreach, cleanups, water quality analysis, creek restoration/re-vegetation projects, and erosion control projects.
Since the beginning of the grant program, 22 groups have benefited from the funds. “The Community Stewardship Grants are vital to the health of many local watershed and creek groups,” said Femke Oldham, the program coordinator for SPAWNERS, a previous grant recipient. “These funds enable our group to carry out our mission of watershed stewardship through meetings and publications, outreach and education events, native gardening and habitat restoration workday, and creek clean ups,” she added.