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PSU-sponsored UNESCO workshop addresses water issues and climate change
Author: David Santen, Office of University Communications/Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices
Posted: May 14, 2010

(Portland, Ore.) May 13, 2010 – Thirty social and natural scientists, engineers, managers and decision-makers gathered at Portland State University on May 10-12, 2010, to grapple with creating sustainable solutions to large-scale watershed management issues in North and Central America.

Participants representing six different North and Central American basins shared experiences and lessons learned in their “catchments”—geographic areas that channel precipitation and snowmelt into a common drainage basin. Those included San Pedro (Arizona and Mexico), Willamette (Oregon), Upper Washita (Oklahoma), Lake Champlain (New York, Vermont, and Quebec, Canada), Iowa-Cedar (Iowa and Minnesota), Luquillo (Puerto Rico) and Panama Canal.

The Portland summit served as a workshop for Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy (HELP), a cross cutting and multidisciplinary initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) led by the International Hydrological Programme.

The idea behind HELP is to integrate management of these catchments by creating a framework in which water law and policy experts, water resource managers, and water and environmental scientists can work with stakeholders and decision-makers to solve watershed-scale challenges. The Paris, France-based HELP initiative has established an international network of catchments to improve the links between hydrology and the needs of society. That network includes 91 basins across 67 countries and over 600 participating organizations.

The size and complexity of these basins—set against a backdrop of climate change and land use issues—means that an effective management approach must focus on the nexus between society and nature, and between policy and science. Interactions between politics, socioeconomics, institutional and policy practices, social learning, and scientific data and information are all important considerations.

The Portland workshop aimed at strengthening the North America HELP basin network by:
•    Exchanging new scientific information on climate change, hydrologic ecosystem services, and water governance for integrated water resource management;
•    Enhancing the role and visibility of the North American HELP basins within the multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional partnering initiatives currently emerging in water management communities; and
•    Increasing management capacity for using climate information at the basin level with multi-jurisdictional partners through the social learning process and through adaptive management.

"The HELP workshop provides a unique opportunity to learn various basin experience related to watershed resilience from multiple lenses. Both scientists and practitioners got together to share methods and tools to solve complex water issues," said host and co-organizer Heejun Chang, an associate professor of Geography at Portland State University." Participants also toured local facilities of community partners Clackamas River Water Providers and Portland General Electric.

No single model for success has emerged from HELP basin groups. Participants discussed significant differences in the basins’ regulatory environment, data availability, major themes and drivers, land use, local institutions and federal partners.

2010 Help Network Meeting ParticipantsHowever, all of the efforts share broad institutional involvement from local to national governments, non-governmental organizations, and civil society, as well as a commitment to open data access, communication among various sectors and broad engagement in decision-making.

The workshop was sponsored by multiple organizations, including U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices at Portland State University, Clackamas River Water Providers, Portland General Electric and Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.

A monograph (or scientific treatise) resulting from the workshop will be released later in 2010. For more information, contact organizer Heejun Chang (, Department of Geography, Portland State University.

For more information on the HELP network, visit