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Sharing Water

They plant trees. They clean up the creek. They shake hands and man educational booths at events like Summerfest

POLK COUNTY -- They plant trees. They clean up the creek. They shake hands and man educational booths at events like Summerfest.

The Rickreall Watershed Council is not a bunch of people who sit around a table to talk about issues and use words like "riparian."

Well, they do that too.

But they also get out of their chairs, roll up their sleeves and practice what they preach. They are not afraid to -- literally -- get their hands dirty.

The watershed council does projects and makes recommendations that affect more than 4,000 county residents who depend on Rickreall Creek and its groundwater for everything from drinking water to waste disposal.

Planting trees at Rickreall Dairy has become a tradition for the group. It was never intended to become an annual event.

Some 1,000 poplar trees were planted by dairy employees in February of 1999. Almost 400 of the trees were promptly destroyed by vandals in the middle of the night.

The council organized 20 volunteers to replant the trees. Vandals struck again.

Volunteers will replant the trees Saturday, Feb. 17.

The trees were not just a way to make Highway 22 pretty. Dairy owners spray recycled water on a field next to the highway to irrigate crops for the cows.

Trees keep the spray from drifting on to the highway.

The annual creek clean up is another activity that gets council members out of the meeting room.

The clean up was organized by Students Against Violating the Environment, a group at Dallas High School.

With the help of council members, they have cleaned up the creek every August for three years.

"We tag along," said Glen Scatterday, former chairman of the council. "We gave some money for T-shirts two years ago, but it's really the students' project."

Watershed council member and environmental representative to the council Stephanie Preuitt is also the DHS student club adviser. She said the council has changed a lot over the years. When the council started four years ago, its 19 members represented a diverse range of interests.

There were timber people, miners, farmers, business owners, governmental officials and environmentalists.

Some were environmentalists. Some were business people. They were not used to working together.

"Now that we know each other better, we understand that everyone has an interest in the watershed and everyone wants it to be healthy for different reasons," Preuitt said.

Until the early 1990s, water resources were managed by distant authorities.

Action was taken based more on bureaucratic timetables than environmental need.

Voluntary local watershed councils were created in 1993. The Rickreall Watershed Council formed four years later.

Council members share information to reduce duplication and address watershed issues, said Jackie Hastings, the council's newly appointed coordinator.

The basic goal is a healthy watershed.

To that end, the council has accomplished many short-term goals like establishing an informational center about the watershed and the council at the Dallas library. The center is updated when developments occur or when new information is gathered.

The council has also published numerous public awareness messages about the watershed in the Itemizer Observer.

The public can also get instant access to watershed data by going to the web site at www.open.org/~rwc/.

The council has applied for numerous grants for administration and expansion of the council's activities.

The council's first big project was an assessment of the Rickreall Watershed Assessment (see sidebar).

Future projects include working with fisheries students from Oregon State University and marking storm drains in the city.

OSU students will conduct fish surveys to fulfill the requirements of their senior projects.

Hastings said this important.

"Fish surveys in the Rickreall Watershed have been conducted only on a limited basis and surveys were typically designed to find cut-throat and steelhead."

Council members rely on these kind of surveys so they can get funding for projects.

Preuitt said more information is needed about the species living in the watershed. Surveys like the one the students propose will give a truer picture.

Another project will a public education campaign this spring to remind people of the importance of keeping pollutants out of storm drains.

Storm water from the city does not go through the waste water treatment plant. That means water carrying oil, fertilizers, animal waste and chemicals goes directly into the creek from storm drains.

Hastings wants middle school students to stencil pictures of fish with the message "Storm drains lead to streams!" next to storm drain grates.

The stenciling will be combined with efforts to urge residents to recycle used motor oil and recycle or compost leaves and grass.

People should also:

♦ Sweep rather than hose driveways and sidewalks.

♦ Use only minimal amounts of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

♦ Wash cars on grass or gravel.

♦ Dispose of household cleaners properly or use less toxic alternatives.

The Rickreall Watershed is an example of what watershed councils are supposed to be, said Randy VanHoy, a civil engineer who works in natural resource restoration.

"Some of them just sit around and discuss things and do assessments," he said.

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