October 8, 2018|By Neil Hawkins| Water
Many communities are built alongside a river or lake, and too often the people who live there take for granted the precious resource that surrounds them. 

This can also be said for Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Watershed, an expansive network of more than 7,000 miles of rivers and streams that spans 22 counties. The watershed is home to 138 endangered or threatened animals, 90 fish species and natural resources too numerous to count. 

10 8 4304222 origSaginaw Bay. Photo by Saginaw Bay Water Trail Alliance.

Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN) is a guardian of sorts of this natural treasure. WIN is a program founded in 1998 with funding by The Conservation Fund and Dow. Its purpose is to keep the Bay and its tributaries healthy and accessible. The organization is celebrating its 20thanniversary, which has given us at Dow a chance to reflect on WIN’s impact on one of the largest fresh watersheds in the world.

Dow helped launch WIN in 1998 because we believed then and we still believe today that investing in the environment is symbiotic. Everyone is better when we incorporate the value of nature into our business priorities. 

Valuing Nature is now one of Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals, which represent our corporate-level commitment to collaborate with like-minded partners to advance the wellbeing of humanity by helping lead the transition to a sustainable planet and society. In pursuit of the Valuing Nature goal, Dow applies a business-decision process that values nature, delivering commercial value and natural capital value through projects that are good for the company and better for ecosystems.

10 8 hilton elementary science fair 4Kids looking at a watershed model. Photo by Huron Pines.

The 20-year relationship between The Conservation Fund and Dow has resulted in more than $5 million in investment by WIN and its partners, and leveraged more than $12 million in additional project support. The partnership has allowed for the implementation of more than 250 projects that have supported water conservation, education, habitat restoration, public access to natural resources, community planning, green infrastructure development and more. 

Many projects involve the vast system of dams built along the entire Saginaw Bay Watershed. Hundreds of dams were built in the 19thcentury, and while they had economic and societal value at the time, it came at a cost to the health of the waterways. Many of the dams outlived their usefulness, but removing them has proved to be complicated and expensive.

10 8 Hamilton DamHamilton dam. Photo by Genesee County Parks Commission.

This is the kind of situation where WIN shines. WIN had the foresight to chart the dam systems in the region and support communities and organizations who were like-minded in their desire to remove them. This vision resulted in the restoration of more than 300 miles of watershed, including high-profile projects in Chesaning, Frankenmuth and Flint, allowing fish and wildlife to pass freely once again. What’s more, clean, fresh, dam-free water draws tourism, water sports, recreation and economic development. This is meaningful conservation at its finest. Everyone wins.

The partnership also has been a key supporter of regional non-motorized trail networks, creating the first multi-county plan for trail connectivity, and has supported the implementation of that plan through multiple grants.  

This system-wide perspective is not something any unit of government, group, individual or business could possess. WIN’s unique approach calls for bringing diverse stakeholders together to explore novel solutions. Academics, nongovernmental organizations, regulators, businesses and others contribute their insights and solutions. Many also contribute funding to make the projects possible, including the Dow family foundations in Midland and others, which have been strong supporters over the years. 

I have attended several of these gatherings and always leave them impressed with the caliber of discussion and the passion of the participants. Everyone attends for the greater good; agendas wait at the door. Without such a broad perspective that weighs the holistic value of a healthy watershed, projects like a dam removal are far less likely to happen.

10 8 S1Photo by Flint River Watershed Coalition.

WIN brings perspective, practicality and possibility to the Saginaw Bay Watershed. Dow has forged several collaborations that were partially inspired by the WIN approach and vision. And the organization was instrumental in Dow’s own maturation on the topic of incorporating nature into business goals. 

I feel fortunate to live in an area of such rich natural wonder, and equally fortunate that Dow can collaborate with WIN to protect it. Thank you WIN, and happy anniversary. We look forward to many more years of collaboration and impact.

10 15 18 Find out more squareYou can find out more about WIN in the second and third parts of this series:
Part II: Strength in Partnership: A Simple Idea That Benefits An Entire Region by Larry Selzer, President and CEO of The Conservation Fund
Part III: How a Winning Partnership Is Making Michigan’s Natural Beauty More Accessible by Greg Yankee, Executive Director of The Little Forks Conservancy