A Watershed Approach

A Watershed Approach

Students and faculty joined Kim Lutz of the Nature Conservancy on April 6th for a lunchtime lecture at the GSD entitled “Taking it to Scale: a Watershed Approach to Conservation Design.” Lutz’s domain is the Connecticut River watershed, close to home, yet little known. In reality, the watershed extends from the Canadian border through 5 states to Long Island Sound and supplies much of the water to the Greater Boston area through the Quabbin Reservoir. Since actions on any part of the river have impacts on habitats, ecology and water flow through the entire span, the watershed conservation approach is an increasingly relevant model for ensuring sustainability.

Lutz was invited by Loeb Fellow Scott Campbell as part of his Large Landscape Conservation series of talks. Her work fits well into the GSD disciplines of landscape architecture and urban planning in particular, which often look to interventions at a larger scale. Consistent with this breadth, Campbell emphasized Lutz’s knowledge from “fishes to floodplains” in her “multi-agency and multi-state” work with the Conservancy.

A relatively new approach in the realm of conservation biology, watershed conservation entails regional strategies for intervention to minimize ecosystem risk and mitigate climate impacts. In the case of the Connecticut River, this entails addressing the watershed’s more than 2300 dams and more than 40,000 culverts. Eighty percent of the dams are obsolete, and a large proportion of the culverts are insufficient to allow fish population movements or storm flows. ­Lutz was both informative yet provocative, as she explained both the technical aspects of modeling to determine high-priority sites for intervention, and the strategic political aspects of partnership building with local stakeholders across the watershed. Her description of “Elm Mingle–an elm dating service” for pollination to ensure biodiversity and increase species of this endangered tree critical to the health of the floodplains, was  both humorous and dead serious.

Lutz’s words struck a chord with students, many of whom are pursuing independent study research with Scott Campbell this semester on water conservation in Colorado. Lutz framed the Conservancy’s work as “remanage, reconnect, restore, and reinvest.” From this toolkit, Lutz has achieved success across the Connecticut River watershed, a model she aims to “scale up” to other regions across the nation.

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