High waters equal a low point for the river – and an opportunity for you and the CWC Board of Directors.

Through ups and downs, CWC is helping Santa Cruz realize its vision of a fun, welcoming and inviting San Lorenzo river that connects our diverse neighborhoods to nature, a river that’s celebrated as a desirable destination for recreation and reflection. We truly are going to get there, though admittedly, this week, that may seem like an ever more daunting task.

This week’s storms apparently surprised the City of Santa Cruz. City staff were busily implementing an emergency evacuation plan as rising water levels threatened human lives and swallowed up campers’ tents and belongings in the San Lorenzo Park benchlands campground. Most importantly, no one appears to have been hurt. The conversation around town includes care and concern for people experiencing homelessness who have lost their belongings and continue to be threatened by cold and wet conditions, which must be a level of misery that I know I cannot fathom. The other conversation focuses on anger and frustration around how the City of Santa Cruz managed the situation.

Taking the long view, this week may have been a low point, but it is just one point on this arc of a changing river.

Taking the long view, this week may have been a low point, but it is just one point on this arc of a changing river. CWC remains focused on that long-term vision for the river; and while criticizing the City is valid and may feel gratifying, we’re also looking in the mirror. We’re asking what more we might have done. Could we have offered more help to campers in harm’s way, focusing on an approach of mutual aid? (When we asked if CWC staff and volunteers could help in any way, we were told no, but maybe we didn’t try creatively hard enough.) Could we have pressured the City to do more than simply invite campers to consider voluntarily moving – then doing nothing else when some people refused?

CWC is a strong organization, a key City partner on the river. And we’re increasingly humble in evaluating our own strengths and weaknesses. At every level of the organization, we’re striving to build upon our strengths, honestly assess and address our weaknesses and grow into the organization this river and community needs. CWC thriving as a strong river advocate is one of the best ways for our community to protect the river and realize the potential for the river and surrounding areas. In line with that evolution, CWC is launching an open recruitment to our already strong Board of Directors and the committees that advise the CWC Board. Key candidates will possess a passion for the river, Santa Cruz and CWC’s work, which includes:

  • successfully training thousands of volunteers in civic science water quality monitoring programs,
  • inspiring thousands of students as Watershed Rangers, advocating for the river as they find their voice for what they’re most passionate about,
  • engaging dozens of local groups and hundreds of families and volunteers to plant thousands of native plants to replace invasive species, and
  • advocating for the river by influencing the City and County of Santa Cruz as public agencies with authority and responsibility to manage the river.

We’re changing our view of who makes an ideal Board candidate…

As with many nonprofit boards, the CWC Board of Directors sets overall strategy for the organization, oversees CWC finances, helps raise funds and hires, fires and evaluates the executive director. We’re changing our view of who makes an ideal Board candidate, and this open recruitment is in line with that evolving approach. We’re interested in meeting with interested candidates who live and/or work near the San Lorenzo, as those lived experiences bring special insight into the needs of the river and surrounding community. We’re committed to diversifying our Board too, which means having a Board that represents the diversity found in Santa Cruz overall. That will include inviting to our Board more individuals with disparate political views and backgrounds and welcoming people with differences in physical ability, income, race, gender identity, age and more.

This week’s evolving forecast could be a peek into the future. Climate change is expected to bring rising sea levels and more intense storms. Downtown is evolving too, particularly right next to the river, with mixed-use development and hundreds of units of housing planned between Front Street and the Santa Cruz Riverwalk. Another trend is that the pandemic seems to have hastened our shift towards technology over human interaction, yet the San Lorenzo River and surrounding parks will become Santa Cruz’s own Central Park, a welcoming space where we can connect to humanity and to nature. All of these driving forces add to the existing complexity that the river and Riverwalk are all of the following:

    • a flood control project,
    • home to threatened and endangered species,
    • the place we tend to send people experiencing homelessness,
    • the primary drinking water source for over 100,000 people,
    • the reason this community formed in the first place and
    • our opportunity to nurture a healthy thriving river ecosystem in the middle of our city.

The pandemic seems to have hastened our shift towards technology over human interaction, yet the San Lorenzo River and surrounding parks will become Santa Cruz’s own Central Park, a space where we can connect to humanity and to nature.

If you or someone you know is moved by the prospect of shaping Santa Cruz’s future and our relationship to the river that we rely upon and impact every day, please email CWC Board Governance Chair Cindy Rubin or call CWC at (831) 464-9200. We’re excited to build upon our past of watershed protection since 1995 and evolve with the changing needs of Santa Cruz and the river. Thank you for contributing to that evolution.

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