The 7th Annual DRWI Winter Gathering: Virtual and Inspiring

Susan Myerov, Program Director – Watersheds

Eight members of PEC’s staff from across the state attended the 7th Annual Virtual Winter Gathering of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative a.k.a. DRWI, during the last week of February. The DRWI is a cross-cutting collaboration working to conserve and restore the streams that supply drinking water to 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. For more information on the work being done across the basin, please check out the DRWI website.

This annual event brings together representatives from the initiative’s 50+ partner organizations to report, refresh, share, learn, laugh, and reflect on the past year’s successes, challenges, and triumphs.  Since its start in 2013, PEC has led and coordinated the efforts of 11 partners of the Upstream Suburban Philadelphia (USP) Cluster, one of eight collaboratives across the 4-state Delaware River Watershed Basin.

The Eight DRWI Clusters.

Our USP partners represent local watershed organizations, land trusts, and academic institutions. As a restoration-based cluster our goal is to slow and eventually reverse water quality degradation in our region’s waterways. Broadly, the methods to restore suburban watersheds are stormwater management improvements focused on green infrastructure, coupled with riparian corridor protection and restoration, and streambank restoration.

The Annual Winter Gathering event allows us to learn from each other in order to improve our collective work, be inspired to continue and to catch up and network with partners from across the basin.  In past years, these events often included social time to connect with our colleagues from different regions, many of whom we have worked with for many years on protecting and restoring our watershed resources.

This year, the theme for the gathering was “Adapting in Times of Change”.  Like so many events this past year, the Winter Gathering was converted to a virtual event. With this format, it was possible to draw a larger audience as member organizations could register up to 8 participants each.  We jumped on that opportunity so that members of our staff from different regions could fully participate in the many events, including specific educational concurrent sessions, plenary sessions, and interest-based networking lunches.

PEC staff actively helped plan the event, presented in various sessions, and helped facilitate breakout discussions.  Patrick Starr, PEC’s Executive VP, Upstream Suburban Philadelphia Cluster Coordinator and member of the initiative’s Leadership Council led a pre-event workshop to introduce newcomers to the DRWI. Watersheds Program Manager, Paul Racette pre-recorded a video highlighting our clusters’ innovative Stream Smart House Calls Program as part of a great opening plenary session entitled, “Our Progress and our Stories.”

PEC’s Paul Racette gave a talk at the Winter Gathering on Street Smart. Learn more about out this cross-cluster program here: USP Stream Smart.

Topics covered during the event included: Sparking Behavior Change with Social Science, Land Protection Roundtable, Monitoring in times of COVID and Road Map to Clean Water, Justice and Jobs. The Gathering’s closing plenary was entitled, “Focus on the Future of the DRWI”.   With incredible facilitation by the staff of the Institute for Conservation Leadership (ICL), participants were able to identify strategies and approaches to sustain water quality improvements in the basin over the next 15-20 years.   This was achieved through the use of Jamboards – which allowed us to add our suggestions via virtual sticky notes in real time.

Although I did learn about Jamboards for the first time, the highlight of this event was keynote speaker, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Professor Kimmerer is the author of Gathering Moss, winner of the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Her keynote focused on the concept of biocultural restoration, a new holistic approach to restoration which combines restoration of ecosystem structure and function and restoration of relationships between land and community — essentially merging scientific ecological knowledge with cultural knowledge. She challenged us to rethink how we define land outside of its economic and ecosystem service meaning to include land as identity, sustainer and scared.  As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and as a professor of environmental biology, Dr. Kimmerer provided a unique and profound perspective on the mutually reinforcing concepts of ecological integrity and cultural revitalization.

Although I miss the in-person gatherings of previous years, the 2021 version was successful in providing multiple opportunities for learning, dialogue with our initiative partners, and of course, inspiration.