Ways to Connect: The Chehalis Basin Partnership and Lead Entity

Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan
Two local groups offer helpful information and other resources to Chehalis basin landowners concerned about watershed management, salmon recovery and other issues.

NOTE: The following article by Kirsten Harma, Watershed Coordinator, Chehalis Basin Partnership, was mistakenly attributed to another author when first published. Our apologies for this error.

Clean, abundant water is critical to all residents of the Chehalis River Watershed. Salmon are valued by recreational and tribal fishers and contribute to the local economy. Two local groups have been active over the past two decades ensuring that these natural resources are protected for generations to come. The following article shares information about the history of these groups, and what resources they can offer to small forest landowners.

Chehalis Basin Partnership

The Chehalis Basin Partnership’s founding members recognized that water can cause problems – whether there is too much of it or not enough in the right place at the right time. They also recognized that there were emerging opportunities for local input on managing water throughout an entire landscape. The Chehalis Basin Partnership formed in 1998 to bring people together to find ways to reach shared goals for water management in the lands that compose the Chehalis River Watershed.

The partnership prepared the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan, which was adopted by member cities, counties, ports and the Chehalis Tribe in 2004. Key recommendations were preventing water quality degradation, ensuring that enough water remains in streams for human communities and wildlife, and developing approaches to keep agriculture and forestry on the land.

The plan recommends improving water quality through protecting healthy, high quality waterways so they don’t become impaired, and finding voluntary methods to clean up waterways and the lands that surround them. It recommends making sure there is enough water for people and fish through conducting studies to better understand the connection between water withdrawals from wells and the amount of water available in streams, and developing a ‘toolbox’ with information on flexible strategies for meeting water rights needs, among many other approaches.

The goal of keeping forestry and agriculture on the land was included in the watershed plan because these land uses contribute significant benefits to the basin environment and economy. Forestry and agriculture constitute the least intensive use of land by people within the watershed, and provide benefits to water quality and quantity. For example, forests act as a natural storage facility by helping retain water from rainy seasons into drier ones. The plan recommends developing policies and economic approaches that encourage preservation of forest and agricultural lands, and educating the broader public about the connection between land use and water and the importance of these land uses to our economy.

The plan’s goals and recommendations have become more relevant that ever in the decade since the document was first released. The Chehalis Basin Partnership is working to achieve the vision laid out the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan through member organizations and volunteer efforts around the basin: but there is a lot more still to be done.

The Chehalis Basin Partnership meets monthly to share information about priority water resource topics and to exchange ideas on Plan implementation. Over the past year, the group has hosted presentations on the Department of Ecology’s water rights curtailments issued for the basin in May, DNR’s Forest Practices program, and opportunities and challenges for agriculture in the basin. Interested citizens are always welcome to attend. If you there is a water-related topic you would like to learn more about, feel free to suggest it to the Partnership’s Coordinator for inclusion in a future meeting.

For the meeting schedule and information on speakers and presentation topics, see the “Events” tab on the Chehalis Basin Partnership’s webpage at: www.chehalisbasinpartnership.org

Chehalis Basin Lead Entity

Another priority identified in the Chehalis Basin Watershed Management Plan is making sure conditions exist in our streams and rivers to support sustainable runs of wild salmon. After the state of Washington passed salmon recovery legislation in 1998, a local committee convened to take on the task of writing a plan for salmon habitat restoration and protection, and then finding on-the-ground, voluntary, community supported projects that can best implement that plan. This group, the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity, brings together technical experts that can identify scientifically sound restoration projects, and community members that ensure projects align with local social, cultural and economic values.

Chehalis River Basin Watershed
Private landowners have a number of opportunities to participate in managing and restoring the Chehalis River Basin Watershed .

The Chehalis Basin Lead Entity has the important role of getting salmon recovery funding to public and private landowners to conduct voluntary restoration and protection work on their land. Since 1999, they have helped get funding to 141 projects around the watershed.

Types of projects eligible for funding include:

  • Correcting barriers to salmon migration (e.g., barrier culverts)
  • Planting native shrubs and trees on stream banks
  • Installing large woody material to create habitat in a stream
  • Protecting key habitat areas through property acquisition or easement

The Lead Entity sends out a call for project applications in early February each year, with final funding approval by a state panel occurring in December. If you have an idea for a salmon habitat restoration project on your land, contact the Lead Entity Coordinator for information about how to proceed with developing your project idea.

The committee also is looking for new volunteers who have a passion for protecting salmon and healthy watersheds. Contact the Lead Entity Coordinator if you would like to serve on the project review team.

To learn more about the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity, visit them online at www.chehalisleadentity.org

By Kirsten Harma, Watershed Coordinator, Chehalis Basin Partnership