December 13, 2016

Looking ahead to the sunset of the Willamette River Initiative

One way to gauge commitment to a community-driven restoration initiative: Host a conference in the middle of a snow and ice storm, and see how many people show up.

Despite Mother Nature’s curveball, the Willamette River Initiative’s 4th biennial Within Our Reach conference last week drew a sold-out crowd of nearly 220 people to Oregon State University. Together, the group of scientists, conservation nonprofit staff, government agency representatives, landowners and academics assessed the achievements they’ve made nearly eight years into Meyer’s 10-year commitment to fund efforts to improve the health of the Willamette River.

This community’s successes are many. Over four thousand streamside acres restored. Miles of floodplain reconnected to the river. New science to increase our collective understanding of river health and restoration opportunities. New partnerships to find solutions to regional and basin-wide concerns.

But a key question remains: How to continue and build on the momentum created after Meyer’s current 10-year funding commitment ends?

Although Team Willamette has made dramatic progress toward a healthier Willamette River watershed, there is much left to do. Ten years in the life of a river — especially one as large and complex as the Willamette — is not enough time to finish the job.

In a speech during the conference’s second morning, Allison Hensey, director of the Willamette River Initiative, shared that Meyer is committed to supporting a strong transition beyond its 10-year initiative to enable the community to continue and increase alignment and impact. One possible approach is co-creation of an organization to support the development of a shared vision and goals, fundraising, storytelling, data collection and monitoring.

At the conference, attendees discussed Willamette River challenges most in need of a collective approach and the kind of support needed to successfully address those challenges. They also began exploring the concept of a Willamette River Network to live well beyond the sunset of Meyer's decade-long initiative, and how such a network could add value to their work.

Tackling the challenges of the future will take a sustained commitment to an effort even bigger, more connected and more ambitious than the Willamette River Initiative. A strong, well-organized network could provide the support system for such an effort.

Meyer will convene a planning process early next year to support co-creation of a network concept with the Willamette River community. We’ll share more as plans continue to unfold. Meanwhile, we thank this incredible community of Willamette River advocates for their commitment to the watershed we call home.