The scene was 1997, and the board of directors had just been selected for the Aquatic Outreach Institute. It was a brand new nonprofit organization created by a group of educators and scientists that wanted to help make outdoor science education and watershed stewardship accessible to all residents in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The nascent organization had two main goals, related to capacity-building. First, get kids into creeks and gardens and develop elementary school teacher training modules and curriculum to ensure all educators had the tools to teach their classes and to use school gardens and local creeks as extensions of their classrooms. Second, recruit volunteers to form local Friends of Creek groups to propagate watershed awareness and stewardship activities around the East Bay and beyond.
And this is how The Watershed Project was born!
We will be celebrating 25 Years in 2022, and we invite you to celebrate with us! More details about our 25th Anniversary celebration to come…
Our name officially changed from the Aquatic Outreach Institute to The Watershed Project in 2004, in line with changes that were happening in the context of our work. It reflects our emphasis on watershed health and education, and responded to the need to ensure more visibility in a field where many other organizations were doing similar work.
As the years passed the community in Richmond, our home base, as well as in wider West Contra Costa County, began asking for direct support in delivering and implementing on the ground projects, as watershed restoration became more sophisticated, requiring larger projects. This was when Team TWP began entering into large partnerships between groups of NGOs and municipalities, beginning a deeper commitment and relationship to this part of the East Bay.
By 2008, we had completed the Stege Marsh Revegetation Project with the help of nearly 2000 volunteers, teachers, and their classrooms. This was the first climate adaptation project that TWP completed in partnership with the University of California-Berkeley.
Also by the end of 2010, we found that teachers now wanted our staff to come in as guest speakers and to lead outdoor field trips, as schools began adopting Common Core standards. The new standards were making watershed education difficult to fit into the new curriculum, and budget cuts left teachers short on resources. The Watershed Project introduced what’s now part of our signature programming: In-class guest educator sessions—helping teachers teach—supplemented with hands-on, science-based field trips.
These no-cost field trips give kids the opportunities to learn outdoors in an experiential and academic program, aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. In all of our coursework, we incorporate best practices in environmental science education, equity and inclusion, and social-emotional learning, with the goal of developing more resilient individuals, communities, and watersheds.
Our Watershed Education Program, while still focused on West Contra Costa County schools, has continued to serve many communities around the SF Bay Area.
Throughout 2022, we’ll be sharing all kinds of memories and milestones of our last 25 years, along with plans for our next 25.
What The Watershed Project as an organization has always cared about the most is our mission of inspiring and educating the public to protect watersheds. By now, this mission has evolved to explicitly include the people within our SF Bay Area watersheds, and, more and more, to centering those that are in the margins.
2020-2021 have been tumultuous years, first, with the pandemic and then, with George Floyd’s murder, both of which affected our organization deeply, as they did the nation. Floyd’s murder galvanized Black Lives Matters protests and so many important conversations and soul-searching about race in America.
In the aftermath, at The Watershed Project, we’ve doubled down on our commitment and embarked on the Working Towards Racial Equity process that UC-Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and Justice Outside initiated this past summer. This process will help us to dig deeply into these issues and help our team implement a focus on centering the margins, as our work evolves while we plan for the next five years.
Our main objective as we move into 2022, our 25th Year, is to ensure that San Francisco Bay Area communities most heavily impacted by environmental inequalities that reduce their quality of life have the opportunity to enjoy a clean and healthy environment, along with the tools to protect it. We want these improvements to their environment to generate local employment, recreational, and educational opportunities, especially for school-age children and youth.
Here’s a quick look at our current initiatives:
The goal of this initiative is to address the systemic problems that inhibit students, especially those in urban low-income communities of color, from meaningfully connecting with their local community and the natural environment. We help teachers teach and get the kids outdoors in an experiential and academic program, aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards.
Working with entire classrooms to ensure full inclusion, The Watershed Project provides in-person direct service programs to schools in Alameda, Contra Costa (especially West Contra Costa County), and San Francisco counties, and we offer online and teacher-led programs in all other Bay Area counties. We offer no-cost programs to Title 1 schools, schools with 50% or more students eligible for free and reduced priced meals, and schools participating in select grant-funded programs.
Climate Adaptation and Urban Greening
The goal of this initiative is to restore healthy ecosystem function, and the community benefits that function provides, to heavily developed urban watersheds. We restore landscapes to mimic natural watershed processes. These natural processes act to direct urban runoff to vegetated green infrastructure systems that reduce, filter, or slow stormwater runoff—green infrastructure such as swales, rain gardens, stormwater planters, rainwater cisterns, trees, and green streets.
These urban green spaces, planted with native and drought-tolerant vegetation, also provide much-needed shade, wildlife habitat, improved air quality, mental health benefits, climate resilience, and more. We work in public spaces such as city parks and public schools to provide maximum benefit to the community, and prioritize urban greening of communities most heavily impacted by environmental injustices.
Healthy Watersheds and Community Science
The goal of this initiative is to unleash people’s own power to improve community and watershed health through environmental justice education, community science events, and advocacy. For many years, we have partnered with concerned community members that want to improve the health of their local watersheds, including watershed councils, watershed groups, environmental clubs, and so on
Through volunteer cleanups and creek monitoring, we educate the public about the life cycle impacts of the products we use every day and how to advocate for change to industrial systems that produce throw-away products. Community science data helps us identify problem products and the companies that produce them.
Community Resiliency and Growth
The goal of this initiative is to ensure genuine, meaningful community participation in the design and implementation of urban greening and watershed restoration initiatives in their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. We support community planning and grassroots organizing in communities that have faced historic marginalization and disproportionate environmental impacts. This is particularly in the San Pablo Bay Watershed of West Contra Costa County, where our large demonstration restoration projects are located.
TWP also builds community capacity and supports local youth through a paid internship program. We advocate for green jobs and workforce development initiatives that ensure restoration projects can bring about long-lasting employment benefits to the community.