November 15, 2003
Neskowin Moving Forward to Protect Watershed
The Neskowin Regional Water District has completed the first phase in a long-term vision of acquiring the part of the Hawk Creek Watershed surrounding the community’s drinking water source. In early November, the district, with facilitation support from North Coast Land Conservancy, purchased approximately 80 acres of forested property from private landowners, Mike and Lana Kowalski. The land sits above the intake for the district’s Frank E Clanton Municipal Water Plant at the confluence of Hawk Creek and an unnamed tributary.
Because of its location, “it’s arguably the most important piece,” says General Manager of the District, Troy Trute. The District has been investigating the advantages of owning and controlling the Source Water Area (SWA) for more than 15 years, an interest that has picked up momentum in the past five years because of changes in land ownership, concerns about the impacts of climate change on the water supply of coastal systems, and advisories from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
According to Brenda Freshman, who joined the district’s board of commissioners to help with the acquisition about two years ago, all the pieces were in place. As someone who is passionate about watershed protection, she advocated to get it moving forward, even making a significant donation to the project. “The opportunity to purchase your own watershed is priceless,” Brenda says. “What you’re able to do, to the best of your ability, as a community, is ensure the quality of your water, in perpetuity.”
Taking a Supportive Role
NCLC became involved in the project about two years ago, although the organization has been active in conservation in the Neskowin area for about 10 years. In a facilitation capacity, NCLC is providing a variety of administrative services, from connecting the district with an appraiser and exploring funding options to title work and writing up the deed. “We believe the drinking watershed should be controlled by the local citizens, and in this case, the best manager is the water district,” NCLC Associate Director Jon Wickersham says. “When we can marry water protection, water security, and conservation of critical habitat together, it makes sense.”
Research shows that protecting watersheds has a range of benefits, such as lowering costs for drinking water treatment; minimizing damage from natural disasters; and increasing adjacent property values. Because the Hawk Creek Watershed is “available to be protected,” Troy says, it makes sense for the district to do so, creating more certainty for the future through conservation. The first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging,” he says. “This is our stop digging moment.”
The Kowalski’s are playing an instrumental part in the acquisition process. “It doesn’t happen without willing landowners,” Troy says. Not only are the Kowalski’s selling the property to the district, but they’re doing so at below the appraised value of the land—or, in other words, donating a portion of it.
In a way, the transaction completes a full circle for Mike Kowalski, who helped to establish the water district in the 1970s. He and Lana were once fulltime residents of Neskowin. It is where they raised their family, and they maintain a second home in the area. Lana’s roots go even deeper, having spent her early childhood in Neskowin.
“The land is dear to my heart,” she said. Her folks visited the coast on their honeymoon from Texas. “They saw these trees and they were so impressed, they wanted to be part of it. ”She and Mike acquired the land from her parents in the early 1970s, and it’s become part of “who we are,” she says, adding their goal has been to value, care for, and protect it. “We’ve been attempting to be good stewards of this property,” Mike agrees. “It’s given us a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment.”
Now, they are passing off this parcel to serve an even greater purpose. “In the big picture, for the good of the community, it made sense to participate in the district’s wishes to obtain and preserve the watershed as best as they can,” Mike says. Lana adds, “We were happy we could do something to preserve the land around Neskowin.”
A Role for Everyone in Community Conservation
This acquisition is part of a broader vision: protecting the whole watershed, which spans about 1,200 acres and is divided among several private landowners. “This is just the first phase,” Jon says, adding NCLC will continue to help facilitate the project through the upcoming phases.
“It’s a big task ahead to acquire the amount of property that does form the watershed,” Mike adds. “But hopefully this will be a start to that process. ”Brenda’s goal is to continue inspiring and motivating the community “to keep going. “It will move forward if people who have worked on it continue to work on it and other people join,” she says. “There’s a role for everyone in the community to help. You can connect to that meaningful contribution to humanity, in perpetuity, in your community, if you take some action.”
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