Seven years ago WMG founders Lisa and Catlow Shipek brought their skills and talent to the town my family is from in the south of Costa Rica. Watching them there and observing how they've grown WMG in subsequent years is to observe how "ripple up" local projects can translate into changing water policy. They make the difficult work of community organizing and environmental restoration seem easy--teaching from a place of joy; solving problems by way of presenting viable solutions at overlapping scales. They're offering a free education about how change in these complex times takes place to all lucky enough to have the chance to observe.
In a city and state that are divided about politics, faith, economics, and more, Watershed Management Group is serving a vital role that transcends the many WMG basins and cisterns visible around Tucson (and the state). It is creating clarity and consensus about both "trickle-up" restoration projects, and, even more difficult, what sound water policy should look like in Arizona and the Southwest. I've had the honor of collaborating with WMG Executive Director Lisa Shipek, and Program Manager, Catlow Shipek, for almost seven years, in Tucson and in Costa Rica, on basin restoration projects. I study their materials and strategies the way I would were I attending the most exacting college courses. Widely respected, and seemingly universally loved, WMG is setting a unique example about how to create community and conserve water in uncertain times.
I volunteered full time with WMG in India for six months last fall and winter. I established an ecological vegetable garden and managed the landscape of WMG India's partner organization, Grampari. As part of a diverse and talented team, I learned so much about water issues (watershed management, sanitation and hygiene issues) and their role in world problems; more importantly, I learned how to approach finding, sharing, and implementing solutions. My time with WMG was a transformative experience for me, professionally, and solidified my devotion to meeting real needs and addressing pressing environmental and social issues of today and tomorrow.
The world is filled with people describing what needs to the done to green our cities (this writer is not an exception) but WMG are walking - or rather, digging - the talk. Their barn-raising model mobilises mainly volunteer groups to work house by house, and street by street. One begins to see how crowd-sourced sustainable urban infrastructure could become a reality.
I have worked professionally and on a volunteer basis with Watershed Management Group for five years. I am always impressed by the creativity and passion of the staff, the entrepreneurial spirit of the organization, and the group's overall commitment to community. Although I am a professional in this field, Watershed Management Group has certainly taken my training to the next level, and I can thank them for many new skills and a broader perspective on the global promise of these techniques.
Watershed Management Group is making a significant contribution to policies and practices that benefit people and the environment. My business, Stream Dynamics, Inc. does watershed restoration work, initially only in a wildland setting. I learned from WMG how we can employ practices such as water harvesting and greywater recycling to heal urban river systems as well. I have taken several classes from WMG and am now doing projects in urban settings to improve the water supply and water quality for people and the environment. WMG has demonstrated that their practical approach simultaneously helps both people and the environment. An important part of their work consists of teaching a series of short courses to resource professionals, policy makers, and homeowners. I have taken two courses from WMG To far: Water Harvesting Certification is a ten day course that goes over the theory and practice of modern permaculture based water harvesting. In this course we went on a tour of successful water harvesting projects in the neighborhoods of Tucson, learned water harvesting principles and design, and then built three different projects: a cistern installation, water harvesting earth basins, and a "Laundry to Landscape" greywater recycling installation. Each one of these projects benefited the landowner. The test at the end was quite rigorous. You need to get 90% to receive your water harvesting certificate. The next course I took was Advanced Cisterns. Like the first course, this was a mixture of site visits, classroom presentations from a wide variety of knowledgeable practitioners, and a hands on component, during which we actually built a ferrocement cistern! The knowledge and experience I have gained from these courses has helped me gain a greater understanding of the relationship between human needs and our water resources. I highly recommend taking a course from this outfit. Also - the people who work at WMG are very smart, dedicated and hardworking, but also fun to be around. They make learning fun. Next I plan to take the advanced greywater class.
I have taken many of WMG's Classes and have found their combination of hands-on interactive learning to be both educational and fun. I have taken a multitude of classes from different groups, but love the structure and level of expertise and community building that WMG's classes offer. I highly recommend WMG as a leader in Green non-profit groups for 2012.
WMG has found a way to empower any person, from those with less means to those with generous means, to create their own water future. Their green infrastructure work helps a homeowner to cool their home, be shielded from urban heat islands, and be safe from temperature extremes, by using volunteer work and free rainwater to grow vegetation. In a complex water law arena, any person can influence their water portfolio without being a water manager or public official by participating in WMG efforts. They are a group of hardworking employees and have a very knowledgeable advisory board. They have worked well with municipalities to create change in design standards to help progress the region toward more low impact design. Great group!!