Over my career as a watershed planner, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a wonderful array of professional conferences, seminars, workshops, and forums designed to help improve my technical knowledge and skills, promote the sharing of ideas with other professionals, visit new places and project sites, and of course have fun networking with new and old colleagues.
The realities of COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions created a paradigm shift in how we interact and learn. Many of our partner organizations shifted form in person to on-line structures, which while a bit difficult at first, provided a new path for increasing attendance. We were no longer bound by travel considerations and the affiliated costs. However, this gain in access resulted in the loss of important networking and interactions we usually encounter at these events. Speaking to a friend in between a session, exchanging business cards with a speaker, bumping into an admired keynote speaker or official. These things were more difficult to duplicate via a virtual experience.
Regardless of the format, these educational forums consistently provide opportunities to highlight and explore a range of topics and data that help us improve our capacity to build more resilient and healthy watersheds.
Regardless of the format, these educational forums consistently provide opportunities to highlight and explore a range of topics and data that help us improve our capacity to build more resilient and healthy watersheds. Due to many COVID-related scheduling adjustments a number of watershed-themed conferences were moved to the Fall, giving my colleagues and I lots of chances to participate and learn about new techniques and approaches to our work.
I highlight 2 recent examples that PEC both participated in and supported in the Delaware River Watershed – The Watershed Congress along the Schuylkill (held September 20-24) hosted by the Delaware River Keeper https://sites.google.com/view/watershedcongress/watershed-congress-home and the Delaware River Watershed Forum (held September 29-October 1), hosted by the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) http://www.delriverwatershed.org/2021-forum
Both events included terrific keynote speakers presenting on emerging watershed issues and a variety of engaging and informative sessions that exemplified the wide range of technical expertise in watershed resource protection, restoration, planning and equity. The planning process and work behind the implementation of these events is detailed, thorough and represents an enormous time commitment from staff and volunteers.
Sessions at the Congress, an event which has been held yearly since 1998, ranged from “The Promise of Antidegradation: Case Studies from Across the Watershed” to “A Path to Equitable Water Infrastructure“. At the CDRW Forum session topics ranged from “How Market and Policy Solutions Work Together to Protect the Watershed and Local Economies” to “Unlearning False Racial Myths”. PEC’s Executive Vice President, Patrick Starr participated as a panelist for a plenary session entitled “Connecting the Dots Between the Watershed-wide Partnerships” where heprovided a summary of the Circuit Trails Coalition, one of 4 key watershed-wide partnerships in the Delaware River Basin. Patrick, the Pennsylvania Vice-chair of the Coalition’s Steering Committee, joined representatives from the Alliance for Watershed Education, the Delaware River Watershed Initiative and the CDRW.
Again, the virtual nature of these two annual watershed focused events widened the potential audience and allowed for the creation of recorded content and resources that could be shared broadly. The planners of these events need to be applauded for their efforts to pivot from the more traditional in-person events to either virtual or hybrid structures. Each of these formats requires hours of planning and coordination. Both events demonstrated the success of great planning and program development, and PEC is proud to support these efforts.
Hopefully, as we move into 2022, the traditional in-person events will return, but with a newfound ability and experience to create hybrid events taking advantage the dual benefits of increased access to information and increased opportunities to return to in-person interactions – both so vital to the work of our watershed professionals and volunteers.