Case: El Capitan Watershed Project

Collaboration for El Capitan Watershed – Back Country Land Trust, Alpine, CA

Back Country Land TrustGoals:  The overall goals of this effort were to increase watershed protection and improve habitat and water quality in the El Capitan watershed. Tools for achieving these goals included increased commitment and participation among agencies, NGOs and the public in the El Capitan watershed area. For the Back Country Land Trust and the San Diego River Park Foundation, the two sponsoring organizations, the goals were to identify key parcels for protection, acquisition and restoration; and to develop and leverage expertise, processes, and reputation for watershed focused projects across all stakeholder groups interested in watershed issues.

Challenges:  A watershed has many stakeholders that are often not talking to one another enough or about the right things. There are several agencies with

jurisdiction over elements of the El Capitan watershed. Among them are the US Forest Service, State of California Fish & Wildlife, County of San Diego, and the City of San Diego. Non-governmental (NGO) players with interests in this watershed include the San Diego River Park Foundation and the Back Country Land Trust. Additionally, some of the Native American tribes in the region also have a stake in the area. In this project, the Viejas Tribal Government was a participant. Last, but not least, the communities in the Alpine area, which is in the El Capitan watershed, could be much more engaged on watershed issues.

Solution:  We conducted a series of five events that were run over a 6 week period. These were designed to bring the watershed stakeholders together in different ways. First, to build knowledge and awareness of the watershed itself – its boundaries, history, current Butterfly of Collaborationcondition, and the trends of key issues. To do this we engaged the City of San Diego and The San Diego River Park Foundation to present their expert overviews about the watershed. In the process we had participants describe how they experience the watershed as they go about their daily business and what they want it to become.

Second, we got interested members of the public out on a guided hike to various areas of the watershed. This field trip highlighted not only the watershed’s beauty, but also its challenges (invasive plant species, non-point-source pollution, erosion, etc.).

Third, to build collaborative working relationships among the participating NGOs, agencies, and one tribal government, we conducted a workshop to synthesize findings of all the previous efforts with the public.

Results:  In the course of 5 events many insights were achieved and the beginnings of strategies that could transform the El Capitan watershed for the better emerged:

1.       COLLABORATION: To protect the San Diego region’s water supply requires collaboration across all stakeholders, be they government agency, NGO/non-profit, business, or members of the public. While this project was not enough to raise much awareness among the public, it was highly successful at improving relations among the interested agencies, NGO/non-profits, and one tribal government. In that respect, our innovative process yielded a high degree of motivation and willingness to work together that didn’t exist before. The participating stakeholders agreed that partnership among actors in the watershed is critical, and that it is urgent that they identify agency strengths and articulate existing and potential partnerships. 

2.       PLAN & METRICS: To know the condition of the watershed we need a “Watershed Report Card”. Defining a set of watershed health metrics for pollutants, invasives species, sediment, and so on, would be a first step. From there, next steps would include defining who should “keep score” and developing plans for initiatives that impact the measures. One such program under consideration is an “Alpine Invasives Eradication Program” which would define the greatest risks, set up activities to protect biodiversity and habitat, and in particular, clean up Aurrundo and Tamarisk growing along creeks in the watershed.

3.       PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT: The agencies in the watershed were curious about just how much the public knew or cared about the El Capitan reservoir and its role in the water supply for San Diego. While Alpiners can’t easily get to the reservoir, because it is such an important part of our “view-shed”, especially from Peutz Valley, they still consider it a part of “their backyard”. The good news is that El Capitan matters to Alpine residents, especially those who live near it. 

4.      COMBINED FUNDING STRENGTH: Identifying funding sources and building processes to focus resources in this watershed – all tied to the Watershed Report Card metrics – would be natural next steps. The enhanced relationships among participating agencies led to immediate exploration of ways to leverage combined planning budgets and efforts to win watershed improvement grants (IRWM, etc.).

5.      CONFIDENCE & LEADERSHIP: Through this process all who participated gained more confidence in their ability to lead improvement in the El Capitan watershed. This was a transformation in the sense that at the beginning all viewed their work in the watershed as isolated and unconnected to that of fellow stakeholders. It is clear that the implementation of watershed and water resource improvement strategies is greatly enhanced by a shared vision as well as clearly defined projects conducted by collaborating agencies, NGO/non-profits, businesses, and local tribal governments.

Participating Organizations
Funding was provided by the Back Country Land Trust and The San Diego Foundation.

Participating in the events were representatives from:

  • San Diego River Park Foundation
  • Back Country Land Trust
  • State of California, San Diego River Conservancy
  • County of San Diego, Public Works Department
  • City of San Diego, Water Utilities Department
  • Viejas Band of the Kumeayaay  Indians, Tribal Government

To view the summary PowerPoint: