A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Getting Started

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 Initial meetings
As mentioned, your group’s first few meetings are critical to success. Having a professional facilitator to guide the process can be very helpful. At your initial meetings, the group has eight important tasks.

1. Build a common purpose
A good statement of purpose will help the group focus on its real aims. You can define your group’s purpose by developing a clear and concise statement of what the group wants to do, for whom, and for what benefits. For example, your statement of purpose might be:

"The ______ Watershed Alliance is dedicated to protecting the stream’s water quality, the economic well-being of land users in the area, and the watershed’s recreational benefits for residents and visitors."

A carefully worded statement of its overall purpose will aid the group’s future decision making and will provide motivation. It will also serve as a yardstick for measuring progress.

It’s important to keep the statement general enough to encourage widespread support, but specific enough so the group can measure progress and clearly identify goals and activities. Make sure all partners are involved in developing the statement and that it accurately reflects what the group plans to accomplish. Review the statement, to make sure everyone is willing to commit to it. This process may not be easy, but it will be time well spent.

2. Establish specific measurable goals to achieve your purpose
Goals are the specific ends that will help your group accomplish its purpose and define and prioritize its activities. Goals may be both short- and long-term. They may include general strategies (for example, increasing knowledge of watershed issues among area residents) and objectives for more specific activities (such as working with the media to publish a series of articles on the importance of tree planting). Goals should be measurable, so the group knows when they have been fulfilled.

The main purpose of the Crowfoot Creek Watershed Group in Wheatland County, for example, is to adopt beneficial management practices so that water leaving the watershed will be of the same or better quality than water entering it. Two of the specific goals the group set to accomplish this purpose were to increase the awareness of water quality issues in the watershed, and to monitor the quality of the water in the creek on a regular basis. Activities developed to achieve the first goal included an in-depth, one-on-one survey of area residents on water quality awareness and information, and the publication of a biannual newsletter. Water quality monitoring stations were established and maintained in several places along the creek to accomplish the second goal.

3. Set and follow reasonable time frames
It is critically important, especially at the outset, that your group’s goals be attainable, so that the partnership will experience success, rather than get bogged down in difficulties. The group should set reasonable deadlines for specific tasks, then work to fulfill them. However, they should also be prepared to move on to other tasks at the end of that time, even if assignments aren’t completed. Unfinished work can be completed later. Sometimes the reasons the work wasn’t completed are obvious. If not, the group should assess the difficulty, to improve the setting of timetables in the future.

To define group purpose:
  • Ask for ideas from all partners
  • Discuss the ideas
  • Draft a preliminary statement
  • Discuss and revise the draft statement
  • Set the final statement of purpose, basing it on group consensus
  • Solicit commitment from all partners

4. Appoint or hire a coordinator
Because a land or water stewardship group will involve many stakeholders and many issues, the need for good coordination is critical to success. A coordinator ties all the pieces and people together and helps implement the group’s plans. Key areas where a coordinator is useful include maintaining contact with the partnership members, securing funding and training for the partnership, organizing meetings and field days, and acting as the primary contact for the group. Ideally, the coordinator should be based within the community, so she or he has a good understanding of its people, needs and experiences.

5. Establish committees to divide the work load and get things done more effectively
Committees can also help reduce burn-out of volunteer leaders. Form committees for responsibilities like fund-raising, communications, or water quality monitoring. Individual assignments will depend on the scope of the activities and the group members’ goals, skills and interests. Each committee should select its own leader and develop a schedule and a sub-set of ground rules, keeping its responsibilities to the larger group in mind.

6. Focus on the future
Groups often get stuck in the early stages because past experiences dictate what the members believe they can or cannot accomplish. Don’t let the past dictate the future.

7. Get to know one another
To work well together as a group, people have to feel comfortable with each other. In part, this comes about naturally over time, but your group can help things along. Start your first meeting by asking participants to introduce themselves, and give their personal reasons for joining the partnership. It may also be helpful to have members state their perceptions of the group’s most important challenges and the expectations they have for the partnership. Plan events which will also help the group members get to know one another socially.

8. Learn from others
In addition to government agencies, other community partnerships, conservation groups, agricultural boards, and research organizations may already have data of importance to your stewardship group. The residents of your area themselves may be the best source of information about its people, politics and heritage.

Gathering relevant materials
Before the group starts on any actual projects or activities, it will need data on the resource base and other factors to form its goals. Stewardship groups often get started because data about the current condition of the watershed or land base become available and provide the impetus for change. This information will usually come from federal, provincial, or municipal government agencies. These same agencies may also provide the technical advisory team the group will need when working on its action plan.

It may also be worthwhile for the partnership to assess the situation with field trips, where group members can see things through their own eyes. Current or former landowners are excellent resource people on these explorations. (If the landowners are not members of the group, they should, of course, be consulted to get access to the land.)

Maps will be an important resource for the group. You may need maps showing boundaries, terrain, the location of all surface water bodies and groundwater resources, roads, soil types, land uses, oil wells and other resource claims, recreational areas and communities. Fish and game surveys, economic development trends and demographic information such as census data may also be important. Much of this information may be available as part of a Geographic Information System (GIS), that will help you understand the relationship of one set of data to another. (More information on GIS is given in "Getting to Know Your Local Watershed," the second book in the series, A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship.)

Some of the questions the group may need to answer before getting started include:

Water quality:

  • What are the levels of nitrogen and other nutrients in area streams and lakes?
  • What contaminants are present?
  • What is the condition of local groundwater aquifers?
Streambanks and lakes:
  • Does water flow throughout the season?
  • Are stream channels downcutting or becoming wider and flatter?
  • Are there frequent algal blooms in the lake?
  • Is there evidence of livestock damage?
Riparian vegetation:
  • Are noxious or invasive weeds present?
  • Is there a healthy community of trees and shrubs along the streams?
  • Is there a buffer strip between the stream and cultivated fields?
Pasture land:
  • Do pastures have a good mix of edible grasses and small shrubs, with few weed species?
  • Is there sufficient organic material in the soil?
  • Do grasses have a sufficient period of rest to recover their growth and vigor?
  • Is land use appropriate to slope and soil conditions?
Crop land:
  • Are there grassed waterways and buffer strips to prevent erosion and filter runoff?
  • Is there an adequate crop residue cover to prevent erosion?
  • What tillage practices are being used?
  • Have natural sloughs and other wetland areas been retained to provide water storage, purify water, and reduce erosion?
  • Do area wetlands provide critical natural habitat? What kinds of wild plants and animals do they support?
Demographic, economic and social issues:
  • What are the upstream and downstream uses (cities, industrial lands, livestock, etc.) of the water in area streams?
  • What are the principal ways people in the area make a living? What is the standard of living?
  • Is the population older or younger than average?
  • Are there economic impediments to an effective stewardship program, for example higher farm production costs, increased taxes, or lower profits?
  • Are there financial incentives for effective stewardship programs, in the form of tax breaks, financial assistance for technological innovations, wildlife stewardship programs or subsidies?
  • Are conservation easements a possible tool for land or watershed stewardship programs?
In Alberta, most community stewardship groups partner with other agencies or existing organizations to obtain funding for their activities. Information on sources of funding is available from municipal, provincial and federal government agencies. Funding may be obtained from other stakeholders such as agricultural producer groups and the oil and gas industry, or from government programs and private organizations such as Wildlife Habitat Canada or the Wild Rose Foundation. You can also try raising funds locally, on a project by project basis or for the group’s efforts as a whole.

Your group should have some idea about the general level of funding that may be available as you plan activities. Keep in mind that most funding bodies require some contribution from the group itself, such as volunteer services, materials or cash.

Physical facilities
All of the best planning efforts can be wasted if the physical setting of your group’s get-togethers is overlooked or equipment doesn’t operate properly. The following checklist may be helpful.

  • Find appropriate meeting spaces. Members’ homes may be suitable for committee meetings, but are usually not large enough for meetings of the entire group or for open houses or other open-to-the-public gatherings. Meeting space may be available free, or for a small fee, at local community halls, schools, churches, or clubs. One of the group’s business partners may also be willing to make space available for meetings. Appoint someone to double check shortly before your meeting with the people in charge of the facility, to be sure the room hasn’t inadvertently been given to someone else.
  • Appoint someone to be responsible for making sure there are chairs, tables, water, chalkboards or flip charts and other such accessories. A seating arrangement where people can see each other is of great importance in a local group. For discussions where the entire group is involved, use a roundtable arrangement of chairs, to emphasize the point that everyone is equal and to encourage dialogue. If committees are meeting jointly, set up several groupings of separate tables and chairs.
  • Check the lighting, acoustics, ventilation, and temperature of the room before the meeting. Make sure rest rooms are available and well-cared for. Ensure there will be nearby parking for all participants.
  • At large group meetings, or when many members are new to the group, have name tags for everyone. If new members are expected, have someone to look after registration and have appropriate forms on hand.
  • Make sure audio-visual aids are available, in good working order, and that the relevant people know how to use them. The group may want to appoint someone with training to operate audio-visual equipment on a regular basis. Such equipment is often available from the facility the group uses for meetings, but in some cases you’ll need to borrow or rent equipment from other sources.

Other Documents in the Series

  Building Community Partnerships: A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Community Partnerships
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Group Leadership
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Organizing a Stewardship Group - Two Examples
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Getting Started - Current Document
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Building Community Support
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Roger Bryan.
This document is maintained by Laura Thygesen.
This information published to the web on March 4, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2013.