A Marriage Of Business, Environment -- Snohomish County's Stream- Saving Movement Is Now Statewide Group

EVERETT - Forget the biology classes. The chemistry lectures. The scientific formulas.

Tom Murdoch credits his business classes for helping him nurture a small Snohomish County organization into a statewide environmental education program.

The Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, which Murdoch helped found, yesterday celebrated the start of a new program in which thousands of people statewide will be trained to protect streams and watersheds. An additional select 240 people will learn how to collect data for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

It will be the first time the EPA has used volunteers to such an extent, said Thomas Wilson of the agency's northwest region.

The foundation received $290,000 for the new project from the state Department of Ecology, the Bullitt Foundation and the EPA. The project is an extension of the program the foundation has used successfully in Snohomish County to get residents deeply involved in stream protection.

In its nine-year history, Murdoch, the foundation's executive director, estimates the group has worked with 80 to 90 school and community groups and reached about 20,000 students through its teacher workshops.

One school group has re-established a salmon run in an Everett creek. Others have taken truckloads of trash from streams, removed barriers to salmon migration and gone to city hall to protect the waterways.

The difference between Adopt-A-Stream and other environmental groups is that participants not only receive information, they learn how to use it.

Murdoch said he teaches a four-step approach he cribbed from his business classes - researching the stream, establishing goals, writing a plan of action and implementing it.

``It's nothing more than business management,'' Murdoch said. ``It's the unique application of a business approach to the environment.

``If you can get people the right information and tell them how to use it, you can effect change.''

The program began in 1981 when Murdoch, then a county water-resources planner, took seriously the ``citizen involvement'' requirement of an EPA grant. Most often, he said, government agencies fulfill that requirement by publishing a pamphlet or holding a meeting.

Ten groups adopted streams that year, and word about the program spread. When inquiries began pouring in from outside Snohomish County in 1985, Murdoch helped expand Adopt-A-Stream from a county program into a volunteer nonprofit group.

The foundation already has a national and international reputation. Last February, it was the only U.S. organization invited to an environmental education conference in Tokyo.

The new project, however, will take the foundation's activities outside Snohomish County's borders. Murdoch hired three staff members last month who will help him give a series of 12 two-day workshops beginning next June.

The first day of each workshop, open to the public, will take participants through the process of adopting a stream. On the second day, selected teachers and community leaders who agree to monitor a stream for at least two years will be given the tools they will need to evaluate the physical and biological health of a stream for the EPA.

The information those volunteers collect will go into an EPA database used by state agencies and citizens to make decisions about everything from wildlife management to land use.

It's a model that Wilson, chief of EPA's northwest water planning office, said he believes is the way of the future.

The EPA doesn't need to pay consultants $100,000 to inventory a watershed, he said. The public can be trained to do it and provide more ears and eyes than the resource agencies could ever have.

Wilson said he hopes the same concept will catch on nationwide. The Adopt-A-Stream Foundation would like to be part of that.

At yesterday's foundation gathering, Murdoch and some board members talked about developing a nationwide network of stream watchers.

``If you think small,'' Murdoch said, ``you're never going to get anywhere.''