Ruby Buchholtz is a home grown resident of the Pacific Northwest, having been raised in Eugene and currently residing in Portland. With a life-long passion for the rivers and green spaces in Oregon, Ruby is thrilled to be working at TRK to build a close knit community movement for clean water. Ruby enjoys engaging a variety of stakeholders in this mission and in her past work she has monitored ground and surface water, conducted vegetation and soil surveys, and led hands on restoration projects all across the country.
Her work has taken her from Lake Oswego, where she created a management plan for an urban wetland facing development pressure, all the way to the Philippines, where as a Peace Corps Volunteer she worked with fisherfolk on alternatives to dynamite fishing in coral reef ecosystems. She has also served as both a volunteer and supervisor in Americorps, an experience that trained her in not only community outreach techniques but in how to use chain saws for site restoration! With an acute passion for bioswales and low impact development, Ruby also brings an interest in furthering strong stormwater advocacy in the Tualatin and fostering new technologies for citizen ecological monitoring of wetlands and streams.
Ruby holds a Master of Environmental Management with a graduate certificate in Hydrology from Portland State University and an Environmental Science undergraduate degree with an emphasis in River and Riparian Studies and Water Rights from the University of Oregon-Eugene.
Did you grow up around water? Where? What are your fondest early memories of rivers, lakes, or streams?
I was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, so the Willamette River and Mackenzie River were both big in my world. My fondest memories are doing day-long bike trips. My family and I would bike along the Willamette River.
Were bike trips a common outdoor experience for families in Eugene?
Yes! Lots of families, adults and kids, biked the Willamette trail. But it was definitely my family that introduced me to it.
When did you first realize that you wanted to help save rivers or stand up for healthy rivers and/or clean water?
As an undergrad, I went on a field course called Waters and Water Rights of the American West. We spent two weeks in central Oregon. We talked to a lot of folks, ranchers, farmers, and city people, and it was fascinating to hear about water rights and the huge demand on a finite resource. Hearing all of these points of view made me realize that we put too much pressure on this system. No one is standing up for water, people are mostly focused on consumption. So I thought there must be a better way to use water for irrigation and recreation. This left a big impression on me that there are so many people fighting for it, but no one is really representing the entity of water.
After this experience in undergrad, did you jump right into your nonprofit career?
I finished school and went into environmental consulting. I worked there for 6 months and realized that it wasn’t for me. You spend a lot of time behind a computer, looking at data, and at the time I wasn’t into it. Then I went to AmeriCorps and did a few stints all over the country in a span of 3-4 years. I supervised a team which allowed me to see different parts of the U.S. These were seasonal gigs; you would help with a project for a few months and leave. It solidified my love for the environment and also made me want to work on more long-term projects. I wanted to see the whole thing through, so I moved back to Portland and started grad school in environmental management, focusing in hydrology. After graduating I moved into this job with Tualatin Riverkeepers. I really felt that I wanted to bring a voice to waterways and natural resources that we demand so much of.
Why is protecting rivers and water important to you now?
Among all these experiences, I slowly fell into more of an advocacy role. Water protection is so important now because nobody stands up for water, and if nobody does it, nobody will. We will continue to overuse and pollute and ruin these natural resources that we all depend on for survival. Nobody advocates for the rights that water, wildlife, and vegetation have. It is more important than ever, knowing that climate change is a threat and our demand on water is skyrocketing.
What does being a part of River Network mean to you? How has River Network helped you succeed?
It is great to know that other organizations exist that have similar values and missions. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are stranded alone, and River Network lets us know that resources are there to help us. The wonderful human beings at River Network have been able to provide support and resources. I worked with them on Project Rain Barrel that we’ve done two years in a row now. People love it and request it every year. It’s been amazing to have that opportunity.
I also worked with River Network and Groundworks USA on a Kresge grant bringing in five organizations from throughout the US to look at urban flooding and equity issues, and I was absolutely blown away every time I met with the group. The issue was very heavy, but I thought it was amazing how River Network provided a safe and supportive environment to discuss such a heavy issue. They are always intentional and authentic in every communication.
What water-related accomplishment are you most proud of?
I recently worked with a neighborhood group who were fighting against a subdivision because it would eliminate a beautiful natural area. It is a beautiful creek with water year-round, upland established vegetation and a meadow. We worked together to write letters and collect expert testimony to bring attention to this land. The Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) were in favor of our motion and are remanding the case back to the county to say that this is a significant natural resource.
It sounds like this achievement has bigger and more long-term implications for the county.
Yes, the land was owned by a private party and the developer submitted permits saying they were going to fill the wetlands and develop the property. The site is located in unincorporated Washington County, meaning that it doesn’t reside in a city, so it was under the county’s jurisdiction. The county saw the plans and signed off, but the community pushed back saying that their field information wasn’t correct. A goal of the state of Oregon is to protect significant natural resources, and we were able to say that the county were not doing their job in supporting Goal 5, to protect and conserve natural resources.
What positive changes would you like to see for water in your community over the next 10 years?
I would like to see all of our different jurisdictions in the region and community – including the city, county, regional government, and state – working on the same page in terms of water quality and continuing to improve water quality. For us, this means working with temperature by planting plants or creating different outlets. Everybody in this area works a little bit differently and has a different kind of urgency.
In other countries such as, New Zealand, Columbia, and India they are exploring granting legal rights — a form of legal personhood — to the nation’s rivers. I would love to see this expand into the US and especially in the state of Oregon. In working with other NGOs and neighborhood groups, everybody wants to do right by the water but we all work with a different set of standards. Viewing water as an entity, with legal rights, instead of property or a product could not only improve water quality and access to clean water, but it would alter how we view the natural world and how we protect it.