2018 Current Issue

Partnering with Nature in Watersheds

Key information for judges and teams:

updated 5.7.18

The 2018 Mass Envirothon Current Issue asks:  Can our communities work with the natural infrastructure of our watersheds toward sustainable development, even as climate change accelerates?

The answer is Yes.  Partnering with natural processes at work in the landscape can not only strengthen the water-related ecosystem services we rely upon, but also conserve energy, slow climate change, and save money.

However, taking advantage of these partnering opportunities requires particular knowledge of the landscape and its people, scientific understanding of hydrological processes, engagement by communities and citizens, plus foresight, collaboration, and creativity.

The 2018 Massachusetts Envirothon Current Issue invites teams to explore the ways their communities currently participate in the hydrological systems in their watershed, and how they might more sustainably protect, preserve, and make use of the ecosystem services provided by these hydrological processes around them.

To ensure that your Current Issue presentation is the best possible, your team should start with a broad exploration:

  • Trace the boundaries of your watershed on a map. Where are the surface waters within this region?  The groundwater resources?  What land uses are represented?
  • Where does your domestic/drinking water come from?  Where does it go, and what is it carrying when it goes down the drain?
  • How much of your watershed’s full water budget does your community use?  What ecosystem services support your community’s water use? Who is planning for their long-term health?
  • Where are gray and green infrastructure already working together to meet community water needs?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring water supply?  Wastewater treatment?  Stormwater management?
  • What organizations and individuals are advocating for water resources?
  • What engineers and natural resource managers are engaged in this work?  What problems are they addressing?  What solutions are they offering?
  • What “partnering” projects are already in place in your watershed?  In the planning stages?  Who is involved?
  • How will climate change affect water resources in your community in the next 50 years?

Through this research, you will assess water infrastructure resources and needs, identify an important partnering opportunity, and make specific recommendations for action.

For your Current Issue presentation, teams will take this general knowledge and address more specific – but still connected – problems in your watershed.

* This guide is updated as helpful additional resources are identified.  When this happens, notification is sent to coaches, and previous versions are linked here:


Additional Resources


Two diagrams were handed out at the Fall Workshop at UMass to provide a graphic depiction of the 2018 issue  on a watershed scale and on a neighborhood scale.

These additional images on the web may also help your team to visualize the issues:  conservation and the water cycle,   impervious surfaces and hydrological balance in watershedsredesigning cities to act more like forests

Presentations at workshops

Paul K. Barten,  Department of Environmental Conservation, UMass Amherst
Forests -The Living Filter

Dorothy A. McGlincy, Executive Director  & Michèle A. Girard, Associate Director and Education Coordinator, Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions
Thinking Globally and Acting Locally: The Role of Conservation Commissions in Protecting Wetlands, Open Space and Water Resources

Christine E. Hatch, Extension Asst. Prof of Geosciences in Water Resources and Climate Change, UMass Amherst  Droughts_and_Floods_in_Massachusetts?  Now What?

Deborah Henson, Environmental Science Program Manager, UMass Amherst      Freshwater Wetlands in the Landscape: Their characteristics and functions – this presentation is available via email request only.

Stefanie Covino, Coordinator of Shaping the Future of Your Community Program, Mass Audubon
Maximizing Ecosystem Services
Effective Community Advocacy 101