History of Stream Team

Stream Team Staff

Compiled by former Stream Team coordinators Susie Vanderburg and Cedar Bouta for Stream Team’s 20th Anniversary in 2010.

20 Years…and Going Strong!

In 1990, the City of Olympia introduced an exciting new way to involve the public in how to take action to protect our local watersheds. The program was called “Stream Team,” based on the City of Bellevue’s model of a similar program, and the first action project was a stream clean-up on Indian Creek. From this initial effort, Stream Team has grown for two decades, evolving into a multi-jurisdictional adventure, involving thousands of volunteers, and evolving and creating itself to meet the needs of the community and the need for new watershed education opportunities.

In the beginning, the public was invited to attend workshops to learn about wetlands, salmon, stormwater, and the early basin-plans that were being developed to identify and recommend solutions for flooding, water quality, and aquatic habitat problems. Participants volunteered for storm drain stenciling, stream clean-ups, and tree-plantings along the newly re-routed Indian Creek.

In a community where the citizens of three cities and the County cross jurisdictional lines daily for work, shopping, and recreation, it became obvious that Stream Team should be broadened to include all of North Thurston County which, at that time, encompassed the local stormwater utilities (the source of funding for the program.) In 1992, thanks in part to Public Involvement and Education grants provided by the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, Stream Team expanded to include the City of Lacey and Thurston County.

Ultimately, the success of the inter-jurisdictional effort was due to the fact that more and more fabulous volunteers joined Stream Team, bringing their talents and positive energy to the program. So much good work was accomplished by so many good people that the jurisdictions knew they were on the right track. In 1996, the City of Tumwater joined Stream Team, and a new burst of volunteer energy resulted in thousands more trees being planted throughout our urban watersheds. By the turn of the century, it was not uncommon for volunteers to be at work nearly every weekend in the fall and spring, planting native trees and shrubs along Percival Creek, Green Cove Creek, Woodard Creek, Black Lake Ditch, Deschutes River, and Woodland Creek, to name a few sites.

Volunteer activities have changed over the decades. In the beginning, there were many stream clean-up projects. Volunteers became expert at hauling tires out of streams, using ropes to pull debris out of ravines, and coaxing pop bottles and cans out of cattails. Over the years, thanks to Stream Team, clean-up projects became less and less necessary.

Volunteer monitoring has evolved as well. The first volunteer monitors used a habitat survey called “Streamwalk,” developed by the EPA. Volunteers checked off a variety of observed conditions at a specific site each season, but, because it was mostly qualitative data, other natural resource agencies were not interested in the results. For a while, the City of Lacey Stream Team conducted water quality monitoring on Woodland Creek, but, again, this “volunteer data” was not considered accurate enough for most agencies. Stream Team coordinators knew that volunteers were more than capable of following a scientific protocol, but convincing others of this was a challenge.

All of that changed in 1998 when Stream Team invited Thurston County Environmental Health (TCEH) staff to join volunteers in a training by Dr. James Karr from UW to learn how to monitor for macroinvertebrates. TCEH had been performing chemical tests for water quality on many streams for years, but staff were interested in the newly-emerging protocols for biological monitoring, and Stream Team was ready to offer its assistance. By the end of the training, TCEH staff were convinced that volunteers would do an excellent job of collecting macroinvertibrate data according to the protocol. Since then, Stream Team macro data have been included in the County’s annual water quality reports, providing agencies with a powerful new tool for assessing stream health.

Working with community partners has always been an important component of the program, one which seems to grow stronger every year. One of Stream Team’s major partners, the Native Plant Salvage Project (NPSP), actually started as an off-shoot of the Stream Team program. When Stream Team’s workshops on native plant landscaping became so popular and the demand for information so great, Stream Team and other community partners met to help WSU Extension launch NPSP in 1994. Volunteers then and now float freely from one group to the other, and a big event by either group is much like a family reunion.

Through it all, one thing has been clear. Stream Team is so much more than just an “inter-jurisdictional program”; Stream Team is a cadre of amazing volunteers who care passionately about the Earth and its waters, and go out of their way (rain or shine) to make a difference…a really big difference!