Borders and the names of the spaces within them are useful in that they help us to organize our experience, direct our actions, and condition our behavior. We know that there is a difference between the math department and the English department. There is a different expectation of behavior in the waiting room and the assembly hall. These bounded areas also help to create spheres of influence and lines of authority. It is essential, however, to integrate the distinct places and definitions we inhabit by reference to those principles and conditions that transcend limited boundaries.

Working at the watershed level is useful to that purpose in that the watershed boundary disrupts municipal, agency, and commercial borders and ignores property lines and the rights of ownership. The watershed boundary simply describes an area in which all water flows toward a single point — a river, lake, or stream. The water cares little for contradictory human constructs.

Recognizing we all live in a watershed helps to highlight shared, though often unrecognized, resources and concerns, and it allows a small organization such as ours to have outsized impact.

Though the Mystic River Watershed Association (MYRWA) has no regulatory authority or specific legal standing in many cases, we make an important difference in public policy and regional planning decisions by simply reminding all participants that there are underlying and irreducible conditions to which we must attend.

There are 22 towns and cities in the Mystic River watershed, all with their own concerns and agenda, and four state and five federal agencies with a deep interest in watershed health. MYRWA often has served as a convener of these sometimes disparate interests and has helped to build consensus where often there was none.

A good case in point is the work MYRWA undertook to ensure that Torbert MacDonald Park in Medford received new funding for design and construction of long-overdue improvements. One of the largest waterfront parks in the Boston area, Torbert MacDonald suffered from poor access, extensive phragmites overgrowth on the river’s edge, and a lack of facilities and wayfinding in the park.

We brought together 10 state senators and representatives, the City of Medford, private philanthropists, and senior planners at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to achieve a common purpose. As a result, in 2016 and 2017 more than $650,000 will be spent on design for a new entry and playground, paving replacement throughout the park, a comprehensive invasive species removal, and the construction of a beautiful riverfront boat launch and sitting area. Without MYRWA’s persistent advocacy, this work would not be under way.

The watershed boundary gave MYRWA standing and helped us to knit together disparate community interests. Reference to a shared watershed gave municipal, state, and federal agencies reason to work together toward a common goal.

The flow of water through the landscape is essential to every living thing and the natural border of the watershed points out that many of the boundaries we create are artificial and are ours to ignore as necessary.