Lisa Goodman is the northern coordinator for local group assistance at the River Alliance of Wisconsin, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for the protection, enhancement, and restoration of Wisconsin’s rivers and watersheds.

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

MADISON, Wis.

Today began with a paddle. It is a short portage from house to river. Crossing a street and carrying the boat a block, I am on the water in five minutes. Moving upriver in the cool morning sunshine — what better way to start the day? Later, at the office, the day will kick into high gear. This is my time.

My local river is the Yahara River, which makes its way through a mix of farmland, wetlands, and urban areas, linking the local lakes, before finding its way to the Rock River and the Mississippi. As I paddle, I think about the river.

At work I think about many rivers. I work for the River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin’s statewide river conservation organization.

It’s not easy to keep the two worlds separate. Thinking about land use, and how it affects water, even the smallest things have an impact. The runoff from lawns and pavement, the grass clippings and debris in the gutters along my street will end up in this river if it rains tonight. The additional nutrient load changes the river’s chemistry, setting off a cascade of events. Fortunately, this is preventable. Many municipalities have street sweeping programs. Individuals and businesses can keep homes, businesses, and construction sites from contributing excess debris, fertilizer, sediment, and pollutants to local waters.

Last spring some of the neighbors stenciled the storm sewer grates with, “Dump no waste, drains to river.” One neighbor came out to ask what we were doing. She does not read English. We talked about how we live and how we affect what lies downstream. The expression comes to mind, “We all live downstream.” How can we get the message across?

An hour passes swiftly on the water. I carry the boat home, thinking about the day ahead. Simple morning thoughts and tempo are about to give way to another day at the office. We are six full-time staff at the River Alliance — or we will be again, soon. Today we will conduct final interviews for a new executive director. In addition to an E.D., we are an office manager, a member services manager, dams program manager, and two local group assistance program staff members. With the local groups program manager covering southern Wisconsin, I serve as a resource person for community-based river and watershed organizations in the northern half of the state. Our program provides technical assistance with fundraising, organizational development, campaigns, and more via workshops and training opportunities, educational materials, one-on-one consultation, network contacts, a listserv, and a variety of other tools.

Wisconsin has designated 2003 the Year of Water. Ironic. Our legislature is currently working to approve the state budget. In the face of a staggering deficit, everything is fair game on the legislative chopping block, including funding for our waters. We sent out action alerts to elicit citizen support. Thanks to a strong outpouring of support from the network of local groups, funding for river and lake grants and water staff at the Department of Natural Resources appears to be safe, for now.