DALLAS -- Jackie Hastings is concerned about culverts, the pipes a river follows under roads. Culverts can affect stream quality and fish. But who will tell a farmer he needs to replace his culvert?
Hastings, Rickreall Watershed coordinator, comes across these questions all the time. Fortunately, she works with the Rickreall Watershed Council, a diverse coalition of agriculture, industry, environment, city and county governments -- everyone interested in the health of Rickreall Creek. And since the area's drinking water comes from the creek, everyone is interested.
Finding a way to fund culvert replacement is just one of Hastings' current projects. She feels that a broad-based group like the watershed council can reach people at a grass-roots level. "One of our ag members could tell the farmer `I have a new culvert on my property' when before they'd say `you're not coming on my property.'"
But getting to this point wasn't easy, Hastings said. The 17 board members had to learn to trust each other first. "When you bring together the people on our board -- city, county, ag, industry, environment -- they're not so willing to reach out at first," she said. "You have to build trust, and that takes time."
And trust comes from understanding. So instead of meeting at the same place, the council shifts its monthly meetings to the workplaces of its members to increase the familiarity with each.
That's the goal of the council, Hastings said: education and awareness. Much of its work deals with teaching people everyday things they can do to protect the creek. Things like washing a car over the lawn instead of in a street so that soap won't head straight to the creek. Or not dousing lawns with chemicals.
"People think if it says `use a half teaspoon,' then a cup must be better," Hastings said. "And the chemicals wash right into the creek when it rains."
Hastings likes to start young. If children learn about their water, the next generation will be that much better. So the watershed council has activities at Summerfest and a creek cleanup day coming up. Kids will also stencil notices not to dump near storm drains, which drain to the creek.
Adults can learn about the watershed on the council's web page, http://www.open.org/~rwc. Want to know why Dallas was founded where it is today? Want to know about fish and water quality? Links are provided for every section of the watershed's recent assessment to make getting information from the 164-page document easier.
Hastings is proud of the common ground the council has reached. "It has really come into its own," Hastings said. "You'll see more of the council in the future."