An academic and municipal partnership tackles local land-sea policy 

December, 2010 by J. Stewart

It’s not every day that the mayor, city planners and press come to Hopkins Marine Station to hear students speak, particularly at 9 AM on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. But on December 5, Mayor Carmelita Garcia and Councilman Bill Kampe of Pacific Grove, along with and a reporter from the Cedar Street Times, came to hear policy recommendations from local graduate students for a course sponsored by the Center for Ocean Solutions.

Graduate students from six local campuses (UCSC, Moss Landing Marine Labs, CSUMB, MIIS, Stanford and Hopkins Marine Station) were involved in this MARINE (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education), course, which is part of COS’ education initiative. Stanford University Professor Nicole Ardoin was the faculty lead for the course and MARINE Program Manager Margaret Krebs was the course coordinator. I was also involved in this project, and although I was initially signed on to develop the course’s content, my role evolved and I also became a liaison, organizer, and facilitator.

Set up as a consulting project, the course required students to give policy recommendations about urban runoff to Sarah Hardgrave, Senior Planner for the City of Pacific Grove. In less than twenty-four hours, students needed to identify one concrete opportunity that Pacific Grove could pursue to mitigate stormwater runoff into Monterey Bay. They used data collected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as well as information provided by local legal, urban planning and water quality experts.

For this Interdisciplinary Problem-Solving course, students came from diverse backgrounds and brought expertise in policy, communications, coastal and watershed science, ecology, oceanography, engineering and chemistry. The students applied skills developed in their respective fields to an environmental challenge outside of their own research, which was a goal of the course design. Conducting interviews and working together at a rapid pace, participants were able to produce very comprehensive and detailed project proposals for the City of Pacific Grove. The four groups produced different results, but each used green landscaping to slow the flow of stormwater and to prevent it from accumulating pollutants before reaching Monterey Bay. Such a preventative, low-cost – and aesthetic – approach to water management and has been already put to practice in the neighboring community of Watsonville.

This project was a very exciting bridge between academics and local government. The working relationships initiated between local groups yields opportunities to create solutions to environmental issues. MARINE plans to facilitate further student action related to this academic-municipal partnership.

As a designer, organizer and teacher of this course, I consider it one of my proudest accomplishments. Margaret and Nicole provided direction, support and incredible expertise, but also the trust and freedom for me to explore and develop my ideas. After identifying water use as an important and interesting component of the urban land-sea interface, I focused on stormwater through issues, agencies, mandates and approaches on the international level.

COS’s director, Meg Caldwell, was instrumental in identifying key stormwater players and I was then able to construct our team of local experts. Our experts were very enthusiastic and forthcoming with information as well as generous with their time, and fun! Working with this outstanding team from COS and our local community provided both a valuable learning experience and an opportunity for me to combine science, design, logistics, and interdisciplinary coordination with policy and community involvement. Forming partnerships and combining interdisciplinary skills to craft environmental solutions will continue as a priority of mine in the future, as will mitigating stormwater runoff through green landscaping.