BACKGROUND TO THIS PROJECT – Why here, now:
In 2008-2009, Kent State University at Stark, in response to discussions with the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, began exploring the possibility of engaging in a multi-disciplinary study of the surrounding environment. The idea was to develop a network that would provide an opportunity for students, faculty, and the local community to investigate and learn about their environment, how they interact with it and how those interactions could be improved and enhanced. As we explored this suggestion, it was exciting to realize the potential in the idea. We quickly learned that there were students and faculty on our campus as well as local school groups and interested citizens in our community that were already interested and involved in learning about and working with their environment. It became apparent that we could benefit more from working together than in isolation, supporting one another rather than overlapping or competing, and that this could best be done by establishing links and connections.
We now see opportunities that would benefit many people and generate new and exciting networks both within the university and between the university and the community. We are proposing a project that would help our local community, and indeed, any community, better understand and work with the environment around them. Since water is crucial to all living things, has become a major focus around the world as supplies become threatened, and we have some expertise about this issue, we are proposing a first project that focuses on watersheds, the crucial roles they play in our lives, and the complexity of ways in which water webs and human networks must interact to preserve and protect this resource.
We see this watershed project as a beginning, an important first step in providing opportunities for faculty and students at Kent State Stark and partners in our local area. The overall goal is to better educate our community and the community at large about the environment and to work with them to seek solutions to critical environmental issues.
WATERSHEDS, WATER WEBS: WHY THIS PROJECT?
Watersheds ARE your source of water. And humans must have water to survive. The vast silent highways of river and streams, both above and beneath the ground, flowing through lakes and ponds and aquifers, and eventually into oceans and seas, provide water for all living things. Everything lives within a watershed, even in a desert. Each watershed is structured and bounded by its own geological and geographical features. While the water in a watershed is predictable, it is not limitless and it is not static. As environments change, so do watersheds. What was an abundant water source today might not be tomorrow. A watershed is a powerful yet fragile webbing of water.
Do you know YOUR watershed? Do you know how you get your water? Where it comes from and where it goes? Whether there is “enough” for everyone? Whether it is safe? How human use of the land can affect your water and the water of other living things? How the value of your watershed can affect the value of your local economy? Can knowing your watershed help you make better decisions about its use, and ensure safe, plentiful water for now and the future? You can have power over your water resources – if you understand what a watershed is and the human network that depends on it.
The Nimishillen Watershed is our local watershed in Stark County. It drains 118,000 acres (184 square miles) of land, of which 98% is in Stark County. Its three main rivers, East Branch, Middle Branch, and West Branch combine in South Canton and serve almost 400,000 people. Yet most people are not aware of this vast stretch of land and water or the important part it plays in their everyday lives. Water, shelter, food, nesting sites, incubators, nurseries, courting and mating sites – these are some of the many roles that the watershed plays for its biological inhabitants, the humans, other animals, and plants that live within it.
Perhaps in part because of this lack of awareness, watersheds like the Nimishillen are threatened by encroachment of humans on vital habitats, by pollution, development, loss of key species that serve important roles in watershed communities, and loss of major habitats within the watershed area. Groups such as the Nimishillen Creek Watershed Partners attempt to manage these problems. Concerned citizens, elected officials, government representatives, businessmen, and developers meet regularly to discuss the issues affecting water resources. Yet most citizens know nothing about these groups, and problems continue.
We are proposing a project designed to educate and empower citizens in Stark County and beyond about the importance of the watersheds around them. While many watershed associations, research groups and educational resources already exist, most individuals are not aware of them. And interested parties have a difficult time communicating with one another, coordinating projects and reaching out to the general public. At a time when water resources are becoming more valued and more threatened, it is imperative that citizens understand the role they play in maintaining their watersheds and why they should care about them. There can be a powerful network of people protecting our watersheds if we can build a framework for working together.