Surabhi Shah, Urban Waters Federal Partnership Team
Up For “Oscars” Of Government Service
Urban Waters Engagement Fosters Environmental Awareness
By: Carrie L. Williams
Excited stakeholders across the country are going online and voting for their favorite federal government employee finalist in these last days of the “People’s Vote” for the Samuel J. Heyman Service To America awards.
Called the “Sammies” for short, these medal awards — considered the equivalent of the “Oscars” for federal government employees — go to a highly competitive, select number of leaders.
Leaders taking on huge national challenges and complex teams.
Surabhi Shah is one of those select leaders. She is the Director of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership (UWFP), an EPA-led initiative that Atlanta’s Proctor Creek is a part of — one of 19 urban waters locations around the country chosen to participate in this 14-federal agency “partnership” including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The vision of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership is majestic:
“Through our partnership, we will revitalize urban waters and the communities that surround them, transforming overlooked assets into treasured centerpieces and drivers of urban revival.”
— 2011 presentation by Surabhi Shah
And they are.
Over the last two years, Atlanta’s Proctor Creek watershed basin residents have been participating in a variety of UWFP community engagement offerings that bring awareness to the Creek, undistinguished by many as simply a “little stream” in their backyard.
Proctor Creek is particularly undistinguished by its invisible, historic “undergrounding” in downtown Atlanta. It is the Creek’s originating “springs” that give Atlanta’s “Spring Street” its name. Through the Urban Waters engagement efforts, many Atlantans are now becoming aware of these facts about Proctor Creek and its impactful watershed basin — a geographic area which encompasses a major portion of the West and Northwest sectors of Atlanta. All 14 miles of the main spine of Proctor Creek are within the city limits.
Proctor Creek flows directly into the Chattahoochee River, impacting the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida as the Chattahoochee pours into the Gulf of Mexico. The Proctor Creek watershed basin involves nearly half of the City of Atlanta’s 25 Neighborhood Planning Units, 38 of its 200-odd neighborhood associations, and 58,000 of its roughly 500,000 residents.
Key Proctor Creek stakeholders have been keenly aware of the multiple environmental challenges facing these urban waters. An ongoing major challenge has been the watershed basin stormwater runoff contamination that contains sewage and other pollutants. It has been estimated that the entire watershed system contributes 40% of the city’s pollution to the Chattahoochee River. With the Urban Waters involvement has come more substantive media coverage, further increasing the public awareness in Atlanta and the greater metropolitan region/southeast region.
Critical Proctor Creek and other environmental stakeholders and their organizations, alongside residents and neighborhood associations are actively engaging with the Proctor Creek Urban Waters Partnership. Last year, a local Proctor Creek Urban Waters Ambassador position received targeted funding to uphold the Partnership’s commitment to a “grassroots-up” approach through “community-led efforts”.
The intricacies of this innovative local-to-federal, 14-agency partnership are daunting, affirms Federal Computer Week’s “Lectern” and Brookings Institute author Dr. Steve Kelman. Known for his expertise in the policy-making process and improving government management, Kelman makes this positive note about Surabhi Shah and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership under her lead:
“The Partnership’s “secret sauce” for [this] interagency collaboration has three ingredients. The first involves combining agencies’ statutory authorities to undertake activities that no individual agency would have been able to do by itself. The second involves increasing political support for the efforts by bringing in more organizations and constituencies. The third involves a dedicated infrastructure for managing partnership efforts.”
All of this — with an entrepreneurial twist.
This highly valued “entrepreneurial twist” capability of Surahbi’s is acknowledged by Kelman, as well as in this recent accolade by Mike Shapiro, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator of water:
“The Urban Waters program is one of our most ambitious efforts, and its success is due to Surabhi’s vision and entrepreneurial leadership. Surabhi is the creator, a leader and overall motivator for the program.”
Atlanta’s Proctor Creek and watershed basin residents have a brighter future because of her.
To keep Surabhi in the top remaining finalists, vote Surabhi for the Sammie’s by clicking: