Twin watersheds: Willamette River and Río Laja

Fernando Rivera Valdés (foreground), an agricultural engineer from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, discussing watershed conservation during a tour of restoration sites along Price Creek in the Willamette watershed.

The Willamette River restoration community recently hosted six visiting representatives from the Río Laja River Basin, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, for an exchange of knowledge and practice in watershed restoration.

The five-day visit in early June was the latest highlight of an international partnership the two basins launched in 2015 as part of the Willamette community’s receipt of the 2012 Thiess International Riverprize. The award, which recognizes exemplary efforts in river protection and restoration, includes an opportunity to collaborate with a watershed outside the prize winner's home country in an exchange known as a Twinning project. The Meyer Memorial Trust's Willamette River Initiative stewards the project on behalf of the basin's restoration community.

Many of the Willamette’s biggest watershed health challenges are also present in the Laja. Restoration practitioners in both basins are working to improve water quality, increase migratory bird habitat, foster community engagement and restore floodplain function following gravel mining operations, among other shared priorities.

Tara Davis, who coordinates the Twinning project on behalf of Meyer Memorial Trust, said the partnership has enabled participants from both basins to share expertise, engage in cultural exchange and develop professional relationships through multiple visits to one another’s home turf.

“It’s so valuable to be able to talk, to connect, and to learn from our international peers about how they approach similar watershed conservation challenges in a different social and environmental context,” Davis said.

Representatives from the Willamette visited the Laja for a week in March and August 2016, while a Laja visitor came to the Willamette Valley in December 2016. This time, Laja visitors included scientists and advocates from the government, nonprofit and university sectors.

During their time in the Willamette, Laja partners toured restoration projects spearheaded by the Calapooia Watershed Council, Luckiamute Watershed Council, McKenzie River Trust, Greenbelt Land Trust, Clean Water Services and others. They also spent time with Willamette-based groups working in the Latino community, including Oregon State University Extension’s 4-H program and the Eugene-based Huerto de la Familia, and met with numerous other partners to trade ideas and explore partnership opportunities.

“It’s been a very positive experience,” said Mario Hernández Peña, director of El Charco del Ingenio, an important botanical garden and nature preserve in Guanajuato. “The information we’re taking back to Mexico will help us think of new ways to make positive change in our home environment.”

The week culminated in a planning session intended to identify opportunities for further collaboration and brainstorm ways to apply learnings from this visit to Laja partners’ efforts in their home basin.

Learn more about the about the Twinning exchange here.

For additional information about restoration efforts happening in the Willamette Basin, visit