Water Collaboration IS Possible!

Posted by Bridget Callahan on June 13, 2017

Workshop Review: Collaborative Planning for Our Water Future


In partnership with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), Sustainable Northwest hosted a 2-day event in Bend, Oregon that brought together a diverse mix of people for the Collaborative Planning for Our Water Future. This was the first event of its kind in Oregon where attendees joined in peer-to-peer learning, heard from regional experts in water and collaboration, engaged with water funders, and exchanged ideas on important water challenges facing all Oregonians.

Over 75 people came together from across state and the U.S., including natural resource agencies, tribes, ranchers, nonprofits, foundations, elected officials, and other community stakeholders to the discussion of water resources in Oregon. 

On Day 1, Oregon’s four community “pilots” – the City of Newport, the Grande Ronde Basin (Union County), the Malheur Lake Basin (Harney County), and Lower John Day Basin (Wheeler, Gilliam, and Sherman Counties) – participated in a facilitated discussion where they were able to share their early experiences pioneering Oregon’s new “place-based” approach to developing local plans that balance water supply and demand. On Day 2, speakers, panels, and training sessions designed by the pilot groups provided an opportunity for a broader group of participants to share their concerns and successes, lessons learned, and ideas for the future of water resource planning.  

Our overriding goal was to create a safe space for honest and open discussions that allow the building of knowledge, trust, and teamwork in a field so often mired in conflict and litigation. We likened it a conversation around a kitchen table where folks hunker down to worth together to discuss, and perhaps solve, the problems of the day. Were we successful? We reached out to a handful of guests to find out --


“This event was incredible – it reinvigorated us and provided new ways to approach collaboration. Although sobering to hear about the pain experienced by groups who engaged in litigation that did not produce good results, it reinforced the importance of building strong relationships.  Developing a trusting collaborative process is not about a lack of knowledge; it is a lack of patience. If we rush to reach results quickly, we miss a fundamental step. If we take time to build trusting relationships and collaboratives right from the start, implementation can go faster and more smoothly!” 

– Jeanne Nyquist, Innovative Growth Solutions, facilitator for City of Newport


“Mike did an exceptional job setting a tone of candid, curious, constructive, congenial, critical, and camaraderie. All of the attendees were open-minded, engaged, and generous. The vibe in the room was uplifting for me. I really appreciate when people can sit down together and have real conversations and I appreciate a facilitator, like Mike, who can create the right environment for that to happen.” 

– Harmony Burright, Oregon Water Resources Department


“This was a great networking opportunity.  It was helpful to learn that others are having the same issues as we are and building this network of pilot programs promises success in the future.” 

– Mark Owens, Harney County


“I really enjoyed getting a chance to meet both the attendees and the presenters at the conference. On several occasions, I finally got to put a face to a name with someone I had communicated with in the past. Plus, I really liked the presentation that put the water needs on a global perspective.”

– Sue Greer, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Region 6


“I was impressed by the energy and collective knowledge in the room.  The participants clearly were the right people to be involved. They knew their communities and they were committed to building a culture of trust and collaboration. It is hard not to move forward with people like that working to solve a problem. Participating in this process provided validation that collaborative planning processes can work if we can put people in the positions to do the things they do best.” 

– Scott Kudlas, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality


“I really enjoyed the presentation and talking to our partners face to face and sharing our successes and failures with the other three groups. We are all so different, but all want what is best for our constituents in our own counties and surrounding regions.” 

– Commissioner Donna Beverage, Union County


“This event was a collaborative regrouping. A refreshing and renewing of our thought processes, finding a water-centric common ground among all four pilots, despite regional differences. I liked that it was staged and inclusive – on the first day we had a more intensive and meaningful conversation with the pilot groups, giving us time to digest and consider, which informed the framework of the second day’s large group discussions. It was really the perfect amount of time.” 

– Christina Kirwan, Gilliam Soil & Water Conservation District


Mike Gerel facilitating the Day 1 discussion for pilot communities to reflect and share successes and lessons learned. Photo credit: Sally Bernstein
Mike Gerel facilitating Day 1 discussion for pilot communities to reflect and share successes and lessons learned. Photo credit: Sally Bernstein

This event was brought to you by Oregon Water Resource Department and Sustainable Northwest.


This event was made possible with support from the Oregon Community Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon

Watershed Enhancement Board, and our organizational sponsor Forest Energy Oregon.