Our Stories

Upstream Meets Downstream

It started with a flood on New Year's Eve. The 2006 deluge sent Mill Creek over its banks and backed up sewers. Small lakes formed on campus.

Mara Burstein '06 decided to incorporate action into the thesis she was writing about watershed councils. The environmental science student sent hundreds of flyers and emails, calling for a town meeting to discuss the formation of a Mill Creek Watershed Council, a citizens' group that would help protect the watershed from pollution, erosion, invasive species -- and flooding.

"Here you've got this 22-year-old walking into a roomful of mostly older men representing five cities, urban/rural politics, upstream/downstream politics, and farmers and ranchers across the table from environmentalists who don't understand what's at stake for them," says Assistant Dean of Campus Life Dave Rigsby '00, who joined the effort. "And she is relentless, navigating through the heat and keeping the conversation on track. It's unprecedented for a full-time student to attempt something like this." Many in the group credit Burstein's calm presence at ongoing meetings with the eventual success of the effort.

Several weeks before graduation, and almost a year after she had begun her campaign, Burstein received an early graduation present: Marion County commissioners voted a unanimous "Yes," and one of Oregon's last unprotected riverways joined nearly 100 formally protected watersheds.