The four local watershed councils of the Rogue River Basin will become one council

After more than two decades of overseeing grass-roots projects to improve Bear Creek and other Rogue River sub-basins, the area's four watershed councils plan to merge later this year into a single policy-making group to shepherd future water-quality and habitat projects.

Disappearing will be the Bear Creek and Little Butte watershed councils, the Upper Rogue Watershed Association and the Stream Restoration Alliance of the middle Rogue River in the Grants Pass area.

They will be condensed into the new Rogue River Watershed Council, with a new board of directors consisting of representatives from the current boards.

The change will allow the four entities to pool their money and other resources and create a bigger profile when pitching foundations and other funding sources for project money, says Bob Jones, a Medford Water Commission manager who sits on two of the four councils.

"We want to follow what a normal nonprofit model would be," Jones says. "Being an entity that covers a larger area will give us better opportunities. It will improve our effectiveness and, hopefully, create a stronger organization that can do more and be well-connected to the community."

The watershed councils were formed after a 1995 state law created these all-volunteer groups to offer stewardship to their respective streams.

They are overseen by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, whose grants cover some coordinator positions as well as providing seed money for many of the projects the councils oversee.

Locally, projects have ranged from riparian tree-plantings, cleanup programs and blackberry pulls to helping remove abandoned dams and fish-passage improvements at structures anywhere from culverts to irrigation diversions.

Each council has citizen board members who live in the watershed. Each is run by a part-time coordinator whose job entails everything from grant-writing and project management to serving as executive director and community outreach leader and keeping the nonprofit council's financial records.

They began here very much on the local level, with each entity focused almost solely on its own sub-basin, working with private landowners and government agencies to make incremental improvements to the Rogue watershed.

OWEB, which is funded by the Oregon Lottery, provides almost all the operating money in the form of two-year grants meted out based on a rating system, says Lauri Aunan, OWEB's grant director. Individual habitat or outreach project gets funded separately, she says.

The Bear Creek, Little Butte and Upper Rogue councils each have $85,300 grants to operate in the 2013-15 budget cycle, with the Stream Restoration Alliance receiving a $108,775 grant, Aunan says.

Representatives from four entities last summer began discussing the pro's and cons of merging, and an OWEB grant allowed them to hire a facilitator to help flush out its prospects, Jones says.

In exchange for less autonomy, they discovered that their collective selves could allow for more efficiencies, such as having employees wear fewer hats, Jones says. Staffing levels of a new merged council have not been decided, he says.

The new board will consist of three representatives from each of the four current watershed councils and up to seven others. The new board is expected to be in place by January.

The Bear Creek Watershed Council will discuss who it plans to nominate for its representatives when it meets at 8:30 a.m. Monday at Medford City Hall's Lausmann Annex.

 Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email