| Protecting Springfield's water supply: A collaborative success story
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Protecting Springfield's water supply: A collaborative success story

Ozarks-Watershed-Center-SWPW-Case-StudyThe City of Springfield, Missouri has a thriving and expanding community that depends on clean and ample water for the well-being of its citizens, industries and environment. The Watershed Committee of the Ozarks (Watershed) and City Utilities of Springfield (CU) have joined forces to effectively protect the local water supply. This partnership is aligned with CU's goal to be a "top municipal utility in the United States" and with their commitment to serving the community with utmost responsibility. (Pictured right: The Watershed Center)

The Watershed, a nonprofit organization formed in 1984 with support from CU, the City of Springfield, and Greene County, emerged in response to a series of taste and odor issues in the local drinking water caused by human activities within the watershed. Recognizing the critical importance of clean, reliable water for the community’s well-being, these organizations rallied together to support the Watershed’s mission: "to sustain and improve the water resources of Springfield and Greene County through education and effective management of the region's watersheds."

Collaborative Foundation
“The future health of our community, people, economy, and environment depends on clean, abundant water,” said Stacey Armstrong Smith, projects manager at Watershed. “Southwest Missouri continues to grow, and demand for clean, abundant water continues to intensify, both here and across the world." The partnership is working despite the fact that the two organizations have different responsibilities -- CU collecting, treating, and distributing clean drinking water, and Watershed engaging citizens in source water education and projects. This unique collaboration allows the community to access grant funds, resulting in sustainable and improved local water resources. At the same time, it provides maximum return on each stakeholder's dollar and mutual community benefit for over 40 years.

Unique Source Water Protection Plan
Ozarks-Collaboration-SWPW-Case-StudyThe Springfield Source Water Protection Plan (SWPP) developed by Watershed is a standout feature of this collaboration, and creating such a plan in Missouri is entirely voluntary. "Springfield’s water system is the only one of its size with a formal SWPP,” Armstrong Smith said. “The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has been complimentary of the SWPP, using it as an example for others."

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded Regional Conservation Partnership Program funds to Watershed and Partners, leveraging over $2 million in Southwest Missouri to support the protection of clean drinking water. This funding aims to improve local farming techniques, meet federal water quality requirements, and enhance aquatic ecosystems.

Educational Outreach
Central to this project is an extensive educational outreach to the Springfield community. "In 2022, Watershed engaged over 6,000 students and 3,164 participants in educational outreach activities," said Armstrong Smith. These efforts span diverse age groups and have significantly raised the community's awareness of water quality and protection, reaching both the young and seasoned professionals.

Overcoming Challenges
Watershed faced some challenges during the execution of its collaborative initiatives, such as eradicating invasive hydrilla and plugging abandoned wells. 

"Community collaboration was the key to success,” said Armstrong Smith. The Missouri Department of Conservation played a pivotal role in leading a community team for persistent eradication of hydrilla. As of today, 37 hydrilla sites have been detected in southwest Missouri with most being in private waters. Known sites are under a hydrilla eradication plan which includes an initial multi-year “treatment” phase followed by a multi-year “monitoring-only" phase. Hydrilla has been reduced to non-detectable levels in over 50 percent of the sites, and two of those sites have stayed hydrilla free for five consecutive years. 

Meanwhile, CU committed to plugging abandoned wells in the drinking watershed with source water protection funds. Abandoned wells are a contamination risk due to the direct channel for surficial contamination. Properly plugging these wells is critical to protect water resources. Both of these initiatives are ongoing and have required long-term collaborative commitments which has resulted in improved water quality.

The Power of Collaboration
“Partnerships with all local water resource partners, including regulatory, public and volunteer entities, have been imperative to the success of our source water protection efforts in the community," said Armstrong Smith. This deep ethic of collaboration has led to innovative programs and one of the most successful watershed education programs in the country.

Watershed's current projects involve a variety of public and private partners, and urban and rural citizens, all working together to improve the region’s water quality. These projects often include demonstrations of low-impact development techniques to reduce stormwater pollution, continually improving their effectiveness.

The partnership between the Watershed and CU stands as a shining example of how collaboration, innovation and commitment can preserve and protect vital water resources for a growing community. By sharing strengths and resources, these entities have not only safeguarded Springfield's water supply but also set a precedent for responsible water management across the nation.