Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020ME232B

Farms and Rivers for the Future: Advancing Partnerships in the Meduxnekeag Watershed

Institute: Maine
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $19,523 Total Non-Federal Funds: $39,817

Principal Investigators: Dr. Bridie McGreavy

Abstract: Farming is an important way of life and source of income for people living in the Meduxnekeag watershed. Yet farming practices are also a source of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution and water quality degradation in this region. Currently, the Meduxnekeag River fails to meet its water quality classification (Class B). For more than thirty years, a coalition of organizations led by the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI), Southern Aroostook Soil &Water Conservation District (SASWCD), United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been working to promote voluntary use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for erosion control and water quality protection. Over the last three decades, the partnership has funded more than $2 million in NPS projects and in 2015 developed an EPA 9-element watershed-based plan (WBP). Yet, the partnership has had limited to no success in encouraging agricultural landowners to establish riparian buffers, a BMP identified as critical to water quality improvement.Partners in this effort recognized the need to improve their understanding of the barriers, opportunities and strategies to improve the adoption of BMPs and thus invited communication and community engagement researchers at the University of Maine to join this effort and establish the Farms and Rivers for the Future Project (hereafter project). The goal of this project is to identify farmers’ perceptions about the river and water quality as well as their farming needs to build an understanding of barriers and workable strategies to promote riparian buffers. Using sustainability science and engaged approaches to environmental communication, the collaborators in this project have already worked for more than a year to co-define research questions and objectives and this is a process that we will continue as we advance the project and build relationships with farmers, civic leaders, and other stakeholders in the watershed. We will use engaged and qualitative data collection techniques to interview farmers, civic leaders, watershed planners, and others. In addition to helping define stakeholder perceptions, barriers, and riparian buffer restoration strategies, these interviews will help us plan and facilitate community dialogues. This data collection and engagement process will be essential for identifying diverse perspectives about this issue, building relationships across these differences in perspective, and growing the capacity to implement workable solutions for those who live in and depend upon the Meduxnekeag River watershed.This project intends to produce four primary impacts in the Meduxnekeag watershed, including: (1) increased understanding and communication between the Meduxnekeag farming community, the larger community within the watershed, the agencies that serve them, and the regulatory agencies responsible for water quality; (2) more effective educational, technical, and financial assistance designed specifically to encourage riparian buffer growth; (3) improved water quality, aquatic habitat, and capacity for various uses; and finally (4) the development of collaborative and resilient decision-making practices within the watershed that also reduce climate-based vulnerability. To support the development of these short and long term impacts, the project will produce a series of deliverables including technical briefs describing insights from the qualitative interviews and strategies for buffer implementation; the development of a demonstration site for the restoration of riparian buffer that will generate data about the effectiveness of buffers and facilitate collaborative learning and decision-making about how to best restore buffer; community dialogue summaries as well stakeholder feedback capable of defining and refining both this project as well as other institutional engaged research practices; and finally tailored recommendations for strategies to identify, understand, and navigate barriers and incentives in watershed decision-making as defined in the WBP. This project will also connect with ongoing efforts in the other two agricultural districts in Aroostook County and state. The project partners will provide local knowledge and information, assist in identifying interviewees, participate in planning efforts, provide feedback to UMaine researchers to ensure the project meaningfully addresses their questions, and use the results to develop an implementation strategy to improve Meduxnekeag River water quality.