Clean Water Champion: Kirsten Howard

Kirsten Howard – New NOAA Coastal Management Fellow
PREP’s Clean Water Champion is a monthly feature tha tprofiles people and partners working to make a difference around our watershed.  This month we get to say “welcome” to a new champion working for clean water in our watershed – Kirsten Howard. Kirsten was nominated to the fellowship program by Michigan Sea Grant and was matched with the New Hampshire Coastal Program, which is housed at the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. Over the course of two years, she will work with the Coastal Program, PREP, The Nature Conservancy, and an advisory committee of experts to prioritize management goals for the Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries, coordinate relevant spatial datasets, and conduct an economic valuation of the services provided by Great Bay. Kirsten graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environment where she focused on environmental policy and planning. She has experience analyzing federal ocean and coastal policy, modeling the economic value of ecosystem services, and designing stakeholder engagement efforts. Before joining us, she spent the summer on a road trip around the U.S. collecting stories about people and places adapting to climate change (check out the stories her blog at Welcome Kirsten!
Kirsten with her catch, a coho salmon, in Ucluelet, British Columbia
PREP: How long have you been a champion for clean water? 
Kirsten: I grew up in a town that depends heavily on the commercial and recreational salmon fishing industries, so from a young age, I’ve learned about the importance of keeping our waterways clean and healthy. I really started digging into the policy issues surrounding coastal waterways after college. In the past five years, I’ve learned so much about how to think about the benefits that people get from, not just water, but clean water. It’s a universal issue, and I’m really excited to begin working on it on the New Hampshire Seacoast.
PREP: How’d you get started in protecting clean water?
Kirsten: After being involved with national ocean policy issues at the federal level for a couple years, I decided I wanted to go back to graduate school and learn more about how decisions are made at the local level where the impacts can be seen and felt. I was really interested in learning how to better understand the benefits that people get from watersheds. For my master’s project, my team and I looked at how water clarity influences property values around Michigan’s inland lakes. That frame of mind really stuck with me: if we can quantify the benefits that people get from water clarity, that information could help influence land use and watershed management decisions in the longer-term.
PREP: What’s your favorite thing to do with or on water?
Kirsten:  Well, I really like to drink water–I’d say that’s number one for me since it’s pretty important for my livelihood. I also enjoy salmon-fishing with my family in the Pacific Northwest. There are few things more exciting than fighting a Coho or Chinook salmon for half an hour. Now that I’m on the Seacoast, I’m really excited to try my hand at paddle-boarding and sea kayaking.
PREP: What’s been your proudest moment as a clean water champion?
Kirsten: This past summer I took a road trip around the United States to collect stories about how communities are dealing with or planning for the impacts of climate change. My colleague Allie Goldstein and I heard so many great clean water stories on our travels. Spending time with people who are coming up with the innovative solutions that we need to maintain our sources of clean water as the climate changes, was incredible. Being able to share some of their stories with others through our blog, including one about stormwater challenges in Keene, New Hampshire, made me very proud.
PREP: What’s one simple thing you would tell somebody to do to protect the places around the Seacoast they love?
Kirsten: Participate. Volunteer for a local non-profit or attend a Conservation Commission meeting. Learn about the challenging decisions that your town officials have to make to ensure your communities are resilient. The impacts of getting informed may seem intangible, but there are ripple effects. You pass that knowledge onto your friends or kids. They share it with others.
Kirsten checking out bison at Yellowstone on her summer road trip

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.