Dozens of watershed residents who participated in HRWC’s Change Makers program are making a difference in their communities by advocating for river-friendly policies and practices.

Drone photo of a suburban development that does not use river-protecting smart land-use planning
Change Makers can teach you how to limit this kind of development and protect the river through smart land-use planning decisions. Credit: iStock

When proposals appear for new subdivisions, shopping centers, and businesses, local governments are responsible for making sure the new development impacts the river and its watershed as little as possible. Local government entities need to carefully review development proposals and rely on existing ordinances and master plans to guide them toward a goal of minimal negative impacts to water and the environment. With 68 municipalities in the Huron River watershed, HRWC relies on residents in those places to advocate for river-friendly policies.

Since 2018, HRWC has conducted several “Boot Camps,” or 2-hour workshops, all across the watershed for residents to learn about the basics of river and watershed ecology, how development impacts water quality, and how to advocate for local river-friendly policies. As of this writing, over 100 residents have attended Change Makers Boot Camps!

As part of the Boot Camp curriculum, HRWC developed Land Use for a Healthy Watershed. This guidebook describes a host of policies that municipalities can adopt to minimize development impacts.

Change Makers are making a difference!

Change Makers map their community's water protecting natural areasFrom submitting comment letters to their planning commissions to running for elected office (successfully!), Change Makers are making a difference all over the watershed:

  • A Change Maker since 2018, Kay Stremler is now on Webster Township’s planning commission as well as HRWC’s Board of Directors. The planning commission is the body that reviews proposed developments for compliance with township ordinances, reviews and adopts ordinances, and reviews and updates master plans every five years. In Kay’s time there, Webster Township  has adopted requirements that prohibit developments near waterways, created a master plan that directs development away from forests and wetlands, formed a natural features committee to review development proposals, and increased awareness of the importance of protecting land as a means to protect water. Kay states, “Participating in the Change Makers Boot Camp and Program helped me to understand that local governments really want everyday citizens who care about their community to participate in formulating and implementing land use and water protection policies, and that expert support, focused training, and substantial resources are available to me on an ongoing basis. I have greatly appreciated and enjoyed five years of community participation and continuous learning as a Planning Commissioner.”
  • Kate Mehuron, class of 2018, is now serving on Chelsea’s City Council. Before moving to Chelsea, she served on Dexter Township’s planning commission and HRWC’s Board of Directors.
  • Eleven Change Makers have become members of elected boards, planning commissions, and other committees and commissions for their local governments.
  • At least three Change Makers have used the Land Use for a Healthy Watershed guidebook to review their local government’s existing policies and submit comments to their planning commission.
  • Five Change Makers have run for local office and three were elected.
  • Thirteen Change Makers have submitted public comments urging the passage of ordinances in their local governments that would protect water quality.
  • At least four Change Makers are participating in their local government’s master plan updates.
  • Several Change Makers have urged their local government (Dexter, Sylvan, and Northfield Townships) to place a proposal on the ballot to raise funds for land protection.  One local government received over 60 letters in favor of the ballot proposal. Residents in all three municipalities passed land protection millages thanks to Change Makers’ campaigning and advocacy.

Become a Change Maker

You are invited to join HRWC’s Change Maker community, even if you have no intention of running for office or serving on a local government commission. Learn more and register for our next Boot Camp in the Fall!

—Kris Olsson

This blog post is also published in the Huron River Report, Summer 2023.