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Nature does it better

What would Mother Nature say about the way we spend precious conservation dollars?

So asked Bobby Cochran, Executive Director of the Willamette Partnership, at last week’s Solutions Seminar.

“If you asked Mother Nature how we’re spending our money now, she might say nice try on one side then hit us upside the head with the other hand,” Cochran joked.

By quantifying nature’s benefits, Willamette Partnership is able to translate restoration efforts into metrics that are meaningful to industry and consumers.

A good example is water temperature in our streams and rivers, which is reaching dangerous levels for fish habitat. Environmental regulations require municipal water treatment plants to fix this problem. The typical engineering solution is to build expensive water chillers that would cool waste water before pumping it back into streams.

But according to Cochran, the larger problem is deforestation around streams—from the conversion of riparian area to farmland—that used to provide shade and naturally cool the water. Restoring the riparian areas has a much greater impact on water temperature, and at a fraction of the cost of building a water chiller at the treatment plant.

Washington County has invested in this kind of restoration. Instead of building a $150 million refrigerator, the water company invested $5 million to restore 35 miles of riparian area around the Tualatin River.

Using the Tualatin River as a model, Willamette Partnership is working with water districts around the Northwest to spur conservation efforts that benefit the ecosystem as well as utility bill payers, who avoid paying for a costly technological solution that Mother Nature does quite fine.

Photo: flickr/KaCey97007.