On May 8, 2014 Derek Van Marter, Executive Director of the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, and Scott Rumsey, NOAA’s Portland Branch Chief for Protected Resources, traveled to Washington, DC to participate in a Western Water panel briefing to Congress. The Western States Water Council and the Western Governor’s Association organized two sessions for members of Congress from both the House and the Senate. The audience included Congressional members, their staff, staff from the Congressional Research Service, and staff from NOAA and the Western Governors’ Association.

The panel format was comprised of a local organization representative paired with NOAA staff to discuss some of the most pressing water resource issues facing the West, describing actions that are being taken in response, and the partnerships that are making the region more resilient to future changes in water resources.

Derek and Scott described effective management approaches that are utilizing local and grassroots expertise to identify problems and develop solutions in restoring salmon and steelhead in the Upper Columbia. States, tribes, local communities and the federal government are working together in coordinated and respectful ways. They shared the successes of the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, established by the Washington State Legislature, as a backbone organization in the region’s collective impact approach to integrate federal, state and local programs. They talked about the partnership between the board and NOAA in facilitating a science-based process to target funding toward efficient and effective habitat restoration projects that are turning the corner on salmon recovery in balanced and collaborative ways.

Attendees were curious to know the benefits of a regional board, and if it was a challenge to get that established. Derek and Scott spoke to the benefit in assembling local expertise that allows parties to work in a non-regulatory way. Through a regional collaborative model, local experts can develop a shared vision and identify challenges to address that result in progress on the ground in a voluntary, non-regulatory way.