Urban Waters

Urban Waters Learning Network

The U.S. EPA has partnered up with two organizations River Network and Groundwork USA to establish the Urban Waters Learning Network to create and promote networking, provide technical assistance and learning opportunities to 10 organizations all over the country.

The goal of the Urban Waters Learning Network is to improve the "impaired urban water resources – rivers, lakes, wetlands and more – and the socioeconomically challenged communities around them by providing local organizations, tribal and local governments with the skills and techniques to effectively restore these resources over time."

Urban Water Fellows

What Are Communities Doing?   |   Return to Urban Waters

Top of Page



Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group Exit

people cleaning up the duwamish river shores

Duwamish River
Seattle, Washington

Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG is an advisory and advocacy organization working on the Superfund cleanup of South Seattle's Duwamish River. Our mission is to ensure a cleanup that is accepted by and benefits the local community, and protects fish, wildlife, and human health.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Environmental Justice: the river's communities are predominantly low income, minority residents, tribes, and fishing families. DRCC/TAG works with these communities to empower and increase the capacity of the river's most exposed and vulnerable communities to guide the river cleanup.
  • Pollution Source Control: The river cleanup will not be successful without comprehensive pollution source control throughout the Green-Duwamish watershed. Green infrastructure, stormwater retrofits and treatment, and strict controls on industrial releases must accompany cleanup in a coordinated and enforceable order that will protect our investment.
  • Healthy Communities: The river cleanup alone will not fully ensure that the public's health is protected, but is an important piece and a catalyst for achieving the vision of a healthy Duwamish Valley. DRCC/TAG has launched a trio of community health projects to research health impacts, advocate for policy change, and take action to protect the community's health.

Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG Contact:
James Rasmussen (James@duwamishcleanup.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 10
Mary Lou Soscia (Soscia.marylou@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Prescott Creeks Preservation Association Exit

people planning out the presscot creeks project

Verde River Watershed
Prescott, Arizona

Prescott Creeks is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission to promote, protect and celebrate the ecological integrity of riparian systems and associated wetlands in the central Arizona watersheds through conservation, restoration and education.

We work with community groups to teach people how rivers and streams shape the landscape, why they are important to our everyday lives, and what community members can do to protect and restore them. Hundreds of volunteers, ranging in age from three-year old children to 90-year old adults, work with Prescott Creeks each year to clean up trash, monitor water quality, restore habitat, and educate others.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • River Cleanups: Annual Granite Creek Cleanup drawing 500+ community members' results in tons of trash and debris removed from waterways and routed to appropriate disposal, recycling or upcycling into art.
  • Watershed Restoration: Functional restoration of 126 acre Watson Woods Riparian Preserve on, and upstream of, impaired waters. Secured over $2.5 million in state and federal funding (Section 319) to plan and implement project involving channel relocation, wetland restoration and creation, and extensive revegetation along with detailed project performance monitoring.
  • Stakeholders and Water Quality: The Granite Creek Watershed Improvement Council, representing a broad stakeholder group, is working to address non-point-source pollution in the watershed. The Watershed Improvement Plan, developed by Prescott Creeks and the Council, includes a menu of Best Management Practices to address specific water quality pollutants and processes, and serves as a guide and justification for partners, residents, and others to pursue and/or support funding to implement improvement projects.

Prescott Creeks Contact:
Michael Byrd (MByrd@prescottcreeks.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 10
Jared Vollmer (Vollmer.jared@epa.gov)

Top of Page

River des Peres Watershed Coalition Exit

group photo by the project site

River des Peres Watershed
St Louis, Missouri

River des Peres Watershed Coalition has been empowering citizens since 2001 with the notion that St. Louis can reduce sanitary overflows, address flooding concerns, and improve habitat. By building a resume of signature projects, they increase awareness while recruiting dedicated members to execute their Strategic Plan.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Community Education: We have block parties to show residents' small lot residential storm water retrofits, and hosting workshops to "build-your-own-rain-barrel" and harvest rainwater.
  • Volunteer Power: Facilitating volunteer action with two habitat restoration sites, water quality monitoring events, annual litter pickups, and a pilot cost-share to assist homeowners associations with small scale storm water retrofit deployment.

River des Peres Watershed Coalition Contact:
Eric Karch (Ericjkarch@gmail.com)

EPA Contact:
Region 7
Mandy Whitsitt (Whitsitt.Mandy@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Groundwork Denver Exit

three volunteers standing on the river bank

South Platte River and Bear Creek
Denver, Colorado

Groundwork Denver works with lower-income communities to address environmental problems, implement environmental improvement projects, build environmental leaders, and support volunteerism and civic engagement. We are "doers" not "talkers". We plant trees, we clean up rivers, we build trails and sidewalks, we insulate houses, and we coordinate thousands of volunteers to help. Urban rivers potentially provide a source of recreation and economic development for many of the communities where we work. We work to achieve clean water and to improve access to the waterways.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Bear Creek Watershed Plan: Groundwork Denver is leading the effort to conduct a holistic watershed planning effort for the urbanized section of Bear Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. The effort includes community outreach, stakeholder engagement, water quality data analysis, and modeling to determine sources, loading and solutions to pollution.
  • Key Connections: Groundwork Denver is working to improve the connections to the South Platte River Trail from two low-income neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are only ¼ mile from the river, but barriers include industrial zones, busy roads, railroad tracks and lack of sidewalks. The project includes activities to familiarize residents with the river, data collection on barriers to access, minor improvements like signage and cross walks, and a broader urban planning effort to ensure future investments include improved access to these communities.
  • Strive to Not Drive: Strive to Not Drive is a comprehensive program to get people out of their cars and using alternative modes of transportation. One element of the program is bicycle education, repair and giveaways in the neighborhoods adjoining the South Platte River Trail. The Trail offers a great amenity for these neighborhoods to travel throughout the city, connecting to a large network of other bike and walking trails. Our program ensures that residents know how to get to the trail and have the bikes to take advantage of it.

Groundwork Denver Contact:
Wendy Hawthorne (Wendy@groundworkdenverusa.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 8
Stacey Erikson (Erikson.stacey@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Plaster Creek Stewards Exit


Children planting in a garden

Plaster Creek Watershed

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Plaster Creek Stewards is a collaboration of Calvin College facility, staff, students, local residents, local churches and other community partners devoted to restoring the Plaster Creek Watershed in metropolitan Grand Rapids, Michigan. Using a three pronged approach of research, education and on-the-ground restoration, Plaster Creek Stewards works to forge connections between upstream agricultural communities and downstream urban neighborhoods.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Watershed Restoration: Installing and promoting watershed restoration projects in the basin, including rain gardens and native gardens. The organization just received a $375,000 section 319 grant that will greatly expand restoration activities in the watershed.
  • Community Education: Educating members of the community about Plaster Creek through an oral history project, workshops, presentations in churches and other community groups, field trips and a wide variety of outreach materials and publications.
  • Research: Supporting a variety of research projects in the basin, including in the areas of native seed propagation and water quality monitoring. Each spring 60-70 students in a biology research methods course use the Plaster Creek watershed as their working laboratory, collecting helpful data to further our understanding of impairments to the creek and to inform restoration priorities for the watershed.

Plaster Creek Stewards Contact:
Dr. Gail Gunst Heffner (Gheffner@calvin.edu)

EPA Contact:
Region 5
Peg Donnelly (Donelly.peggy@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Park Watershed, Inc. Exit

Children cleaning up a park

Park River Regional Watershed
Hartford, Connecticut

Through community engagement, scientific research and ecological revitalization, Park Watershed Inc., cultivates clean water and healthy urban environments within the municipalities of the Park River regional watershed. Community engagement includes educational programs in science, arts and cultural heritage, as well as environmental justice issues. Ecological revitalization involves habitat assessment and restoration, land conservation, green infrastructure design and transportation planning that will ensure civic responsibility for local water quality.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Watershed-Based Planning: North Branch Park River Watershed-based Plan Implementation projects which focused on the impaired segment of the North Branch Park River within City of Hartford, as well as conservation and development issues in Bloomfield and West Hartford.
  • Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds: The Connecticut River is an important migratory pathway for birds within the Atlantic Flyway. Birds traveling along the flyway stopover in City of Hartford parks. This project focuses on urban bird habitat enhancement surrounding the ponds in Keney Park and Pope Park.
  • Building a Watershed Organization: Park Watershed, Inc. is growing an urban-suburban citizen watershed stewardship organization from thin air, so that it will be established as a framework for future generations, when climate change issues will be evermore pressing.
  • Green Infrastructure: We have been a pro-active advocate of green infrastructure since 2005. We have collaborated with diverse partners to provide information to teams working on big and small site specific projects. Hartford Classical Magnet school students helped create our first rain garden in 2008. Our most recent project, April 2012 with the Parkville Community School is pictured above.

Park Watershed Inc. Contact:
Mary Rickel Pelletier (Maryp@parkwatershed.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 1
Caitlyn Whittle (Whittle.caitlyn@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Groundwork Cincinnati

Children cheering and walking in a park

Mill Creek Watershed
Cincinnati, Ohio

Groundwork Cincinnati (formerly known as Mill Creek Restoration Project) is a community-based, boots-on-the-ground nonprofit focused on building community capacity, revitalizing economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and regenerating Cincinnati's urban river and other natural resources in the Lower Mill Creek Watershed. The nonprofit collaborates with diverse public/private partners, including people disproportionately impacted by the urban decay and pollution. Simply put, Groundwork Cincinnati's work centers on youth, environmental education and training, clean water, planting trees, restoring habitat, building trails, reclaiming derelict properties, and engaging the community in river and neighborhood improvements.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Healthy River Strategy: With its partners and the active participation of hundreds of students and community volunteers each year, Groundwork Cincinnati is transforming the Mill Creek corridor and the Lower Mill Creek Watershed on a landscape scale by eradicating blighted conditions; removing invasive species; constructing the multi-purpose Mill Creek Greenway Trail; creating functional environmental art; managing urban stormwater with eco-friendly solutions (e.g., rain gardens, bio-swales and bio-retention projects); and restoring health to wetlands, streambanks, wildlife habitat, and floodplains.
  • Healthy People Strategy: Livable and sustainable communities have healthy people in them. Groundwork Cincinnati is collaborating with Mill Creek neighborhoods, Cincinnati Public Schools, and the health care sector to reduce health and safety threats and to encourage increased physical activity and better nutrition for Mill Creek youth and their families. The Mill Creek hike and bike trail is a free, convenient and accessible resource for low income residents. To enhance healthy eating habits, Groundwork Cincinnati is developing an edible forest garden along the river to provide fresh produce for people and wildlife. The organization is also collaborating with local, state, and national partners to clean up and recycle brownfield properties for productive reuse to benefit Mill Creek neighborhoods.
  • Capacity Building Strategy: Groundwork Cincinnati offers year-round environmental education programming for up to 4,000 fourth through twelfth grade students each year and has created a Green Jobs site for adult and youth workforce development. The nonprofit provides seasonal, paid, on-the-job fieldwork training for unemployed and underemployed adults and sponsors a Green Team summer youth employment program.

Groundwork Cincinnati Contact:
Robin Corathers (Robin@millcreekrestoration.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 5
Peg Donnelly (Donelly.peggy@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Exit

Six people in the creek with bags cleaning out debris

Village Creek
Birmingham, Alabama

Village Creek is a body of water that runs 44 miles through the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County. It Starts at Roebuck and goes through East Lake, through North Birmingham, Thomas, Moro Park Ensley, South Pratt to Bayview and into the Black Warrior River at Porter in the State of Alabama. Our mission is to improve the Village Creek Environment for the entire length of 44 miles to benefit 300,000 or more residents, businesses, schools and churches in its watershed.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Flood Funding and Prevention: A major project is to work with the city to find funding to complete Village Creek Flood Control Projects. Projects include the Annual Fall Creek Clean Up with other partners and the Annual Spring Clean Up with high school leadership. Village Creek also do annual work with Public Works to remove debris from the Village Creek Waters.
  • Creek Trail Projects: Completion of the construction of the Village Creek Walking and Jogging Trail from Avenue W to Avenue F in Ensley, Alabama as Phase I of the "Trails in the Watershed." The project is funded and the design company is working with ALDOT for final approval then bidding for construction hopefully by November of 2012.
  • Education: Continuation of the Open Science High School Outdoor Laboratory which VCS started in 2004.
  • Park Planning: Finalizing with the city the Learning Recreation Park plan in the 75 acres that were left vacant from removal of homes in the flood way in year 2000.
  • Community Involvement: Involving communities in engineering plans for Village Creek tour sites at the Roebuck Springs and the Endangered Darter Fish in the Headwater Section, and the Canoe Education site in the Lower Section.

Village Creek Contact:
Dr. Mable B. Anderson (Vilcreek@bellsouth.net)

EPA Contact:
Region 4
Katherine Snyder (Snyder.katherine@epa.gov)

Top of Page

West Atlanta Watershed Alliance Exit

Many people planting small trees

Proctor, Sandy, and Utoy Creek Watersheds
Atlanta, Georgia

The West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) is a community-based organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life in West Atlanta by protecting, preserving and restoring our community's natural resources. WAWA represents African American neighborhoods in Northwest and Southwest Atlanta that are most inundated with environmental stressors, but are often least represented at environmental decision-making tables. WAWA got its start during a community struggle to get the City of Atlanta to abandon its intentions of implementing discriminatory waste water treatment policies in West Atlanta that would negatively impact environmental quality and community health. We believe that a healthy environment equals a healthy community, and our efforts are focused on achieving a cleaner, greener, healthier, and more sustainable West Atlanta.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Urban watershed education: WAWA engages community residents, schools groups, and youth organizations in watershed-based education to foster understanding and appreciation for the West Atlanta Watershed while also equipping community residents and volunteers with the skills and technical knowledge to monitor water quality in local streams and educate others about water quality, conservation, green infrastructure, and other watershed protection and management activities.
  • Community organizing for environmental justice: WAWA works to help communities empower themselves to impact public policy and eliminate and reduce environmental hazards that negatively impact human and watershed health. WAWA is working in some of Atlanta's most impoverished and environmentally degraded communities that have been affected by pollution and flooding from Atlanta's combined sewer overflow system.
  • Land and water stewardship: Annually, WAWA engages over 1000 volunteers in tens of thousands of hours in hands-on land and watershed stewardship in West Atlanta communities. WAWA has been successful in preserving over 400 acres of riparian green space from development in Southwest Atlanta and raised over $2 million dollars to do so (even before becoming a 501 c(3) organization).

West Atlanta Watershed Alliance Contact:
Darryl Haddock (Darrylvhaddock@yahoo.com)

EPA Contact:
Region 4
Katherine Snyder (Snyder.katherine@epa.gov)

Top of Page

Groundwork Buffalo Exit

Two people standing on a pier with a large bridge in the background

Niagara River and Lake Erie
Buffalo, New York

Groundwork Buffalo (GWB) works to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the City of Buffalo's physical environment by developing community-based partnerships that empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being.

The nonprofit's major projects and programs include:

  • Community Outreach and Coalition Building: GWB is creating a community advisory coalition that provides the community with a platform to communicate their concerns about their environment and determine viable solutions. Provide opportunities to learn about environmental issues within their neighborhoods and what they can do to be proactive in improving the environment.
  • Community Education: GWB and its partners host community education programs to raise awareness of the effects of stormwater and urban runoff on Buffalo's water resources. Through GWB's outreach and education efforts, residents of the Eastside will better understand their local watershed and the impacts we have as a community on water quality and health. The education programs will provide participants with information on practices and techniques that can be used to reduce negative impacts on Buffalo's water resources.
  • Watershed Skills: Through the support of GWB, the community is learning and implementing green infrastructure techniques that can used to mitigate the effects of stormwater contamination on Buffalo's water resources. GWB will work with the neighborhoods and City officials to identify vacant lots (there are over 10,000 throughout Buffalo) suitable for use as green infrastructure demonstration projects. Community workshops will be used to educate the public about the role of green infrastructure in protecting and conserving Buffalo's water resources.

Groundwork Buffalo Contact:
Tim Fulton (Tfulton@groundworkbuffalo.org)

EPA Contact:
Region 2
Cyndy Kopitsky (Kopitsky.cyndy@epa.gov)

Top of Page

River Network empowers and unites people and communities to protect and restore rivers. Founded in 1988, we are leading a national watershed protection movement that includes nearly 2,000 state, regional and local grassroots organizations whose primary purpose is freshwater protection. We are headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with field staff in Vermont, Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah and Idaho. Our programs help local and state groups build stronger boards, more effective strategic plans and more successful fundraising programs, while also providing policy and technical assistance on specific issues such as protecting water quality or climate change.
Groundwork USA sponsors, manages, and helps sustain community-driven initiatives throughout the country, so that people living in distressed and impoverished areas can realize their goals of creating safer, cleaner, greener, healthier, and more economically viable places to live. Through a nationwide network of local trusts, Groundwork trusts change the places and neighborhoods in which people live, work, play and learn, by helping those neighborhoods reclaim and beautify their open spaces and waterways, protect river habitats, build community gardens, and organize projects that energize communities. These trusts include and helping communities turn vacant lots into parks and gardens, setup farmers markets, do river and trail cleanups, and provide green jobs and trainings–all to the benefit of local residents and businesses.