An EPA where the “P” stands for Partnership

By John Kemmerer

As you know, partnerships with local communities and agencies at all levels are critically important to EPA’s protection of public health and the environment.  EPA is one of 14 agencies working to revitalize urban waterways and surrounding communities through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

I engage in this work, as do our partners, because we’ve seen that when all stakeholders have a seat at the table, we can make a substantive difference.  I nominated the Los Angeles River Watershed as one of the first Urban Waters Partnership locations in 2011 after being impressed by visionary, yet practical, local initiatives to revitalize the river.  Our partnership in the Los Angeles River Watershed provides a real opportunity for us to help make this natural asset the centerpiece of a healthy and sustainable community.

The partnership initially coalesced around a single priority, an ongoing Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of L.A.  Completion of this study would be the first domino to fall to begin river revitalization in earnest, but federal funding was lacking.  The newly formed partnership collaborated on strategies for bridging this funding gap and a local NGO received a private donation which was transferred to the USACE to finish the study.  Once the study was completed, in 2013 the partnership built public awareness for the locally preferred project alternative ultimately accepted by the USACE. Implementation of this restoration plan will dramatically change the landscape, result in wide-ranging recreational benefits, help the river adapt to climate change, improve water quality, and replenish local groundwater supplies.

Already, members of the partnership have been able to expand recreational opportunities to bring people to the river, including kayaking programs and the certification of Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and are making the watershed more resilient to the impacts of climate change via programs such as the Bureau of Reclamation and Los Angeles County’s Los Angeles Basin Stormwater Conservation Study.

As the lead federal agency in the L.A. River Urban Waters Partnership, EPA has provided funding for a dedicated coordinator, known as the Urban Waters Ambassador, ensuring each stakeholder has a place in the partnership and facilitating collaboration towards common goals.  Pauline Louie, an employee of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been the Ambassador here since 2012.  Pauline has been dedicated to building relationships among partners and finding opportunities to leverage investments, greatly increasing our collective ability to focus on underserved communities and opening doors that will enable continued progress in years to come.

Our Ambassador has even brought the finance world into the partnership.  For example, our new relationship with the Federal Reserve Bank recently gave the partnership the opportunity to showcase our work to the banking sector at the Community Reinvestment Conference in Los Angeles and discuss how the private sector can engage to advance long-term community priorities along the river.

Cultivating long-term and new relationships allows the Urban Waters Partnership in Los Angeles to not only address past challenges but also be prepared for the challenges in the future. We are motivated to realizing a healthy L.A. River Watershed and hopeful for the exciting transformations that these partnerships catalyze in Los Angeles and urban waters locations across the country.

About the author: “With over 30 years of EPA experience, John Kemmerer is the Associate Water Director for EPA’s Region 9. John’s focus includes water issues in Southern California and sustainability of local water resources.”


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