This Wednesday, Dec. 13th from 7-8:30pm at the Elmendorph Inn in Red Hook will be our last community meeting of 2017.
Please join us for our end of the year celebration! We will be reviewing the past year, brainstorming ideas for 2018, thanking our wonderful volunteers, and celebrating the end of a great year in the watershed.
We would love to see you there, and bring a friend or two! This is a great opportunity to celebrate all the hard work we have done, as well as show newcomers what this group is all about and how to get involved.
The need for improved water resource protection is urgent, yet land-use activities increasingly imperil our water supplies. With that in mind, we’re excited to present a three-part blog series, “Watershed Paths to Water Protection,” on citizen stewardship of water resources by Karen Schneller-McDonald, author of Connecting the Drops: A Citizens’ Guide to Protecting Water Resources.
Watersheds connect people in multiple communities through a shared interest in water. Water doesn’t respect municipal boundaries, so watershed protection encourages water users to form partnerships—not only among towns and villages, but also with colleges and universities. Even if you don’t live in a college town, chances are good that the watershed that supplies your drinking water includes a college or university campus.
THE COLLEGE CONNECTION
The Saw Kill Watershed Community(SKWC) in Dutchess County, New York, includes portions of three towns (Red Hook, Milan, Rhinebeck), the village of Red Hook, and the Bard College campus within its 22-square-mile watershed. Interest in the stream’s water quality began with water quality sampling in the late 1970s and with several ecological studies originating at Bard College. The sampling program was revived two years ago, along with development of the Bard Water Lab. These activities led to the formation of a community watershed group, with a leadership team of five individuals from the college and from local communities. Their job is to maintain the partnership’s balance, and the group’s survival. The college provides open access to the lab for interested residents. Once a month, five teams of students and local residents take water samples from fifteen locations on the Saw Kill and bring them to the lab for analysis.
THE SAW KILL WATERSHED COMMUNITY MISSION: “PROTECT THE SAW KILL WATERSHED AND ITS ECOLOGICAL, RECREATIONAL, AND HISTORIC RESOURCES THROUGH HANDS-ON SCIENCE, EDUCATION, AND ADVOCACY.”
HOW DO STUDENTS AND COMMUNITY BENEFIT FROM THIS PARTNERSHIP?
The college brings us the science, and the town provides the setting for applying the science to local water problems. But the partnership is more than water sampling, as it has included a variety of activities, such as putting together an aquarium to showcase glass eels and stream insects for kids at a community event; participating in the 2017 Earth Day March for Science; planting trees; going to a Town Board meeting; presenting research; listening to residents’ concerns on topics ranging from flooding and septic systems to dams, culverts, and road salt; and a session of letter writing to elected officials.
While focusing on the protection of shared water resources, the watershed group benefits students and local residents alike. In addition to learning the science, students apply what they learn in class to real-life work in the community by:
Practicing leadership, communications, and social media skills
Working with local residents on water protection projects that incorporate science and community values
Applying scientific information to help problem-solve local water issues
Contributing their energy and ideas to local situations
Learning how to run an interesting meeting, provide hospitality (e.g. refreshments), encourage community participation in activities and events
Translating science into terms the public can understand, improving the watershed group’s ability to provide information to local officials.
The watershed community is relatively small; local residents have limited volunteer time. By partnering with students and faculty, residents gain:
An influx of energetic, enthusiastic volunteers with a shared interest in the group’s growth and vitality
Access to science information and exposure to new research
Help with action-oriented approaches to water protection (e.g., letter-writing, public comment, tree planting)
Use of the Bard Water Lab to evaluate water quality parameters
Support for meetings, presentations, website management
Institutional continuity and administrative support for watershed group management.
HOW DO CLASSES PARTICIPATE?
In the fall of 2016 I visited Eli Dueker’s Water class at Bard to discuss water protection issues with students, and was encouraged by the thoughtfulness of their questions and their ability to look beneath the surface to understand water problems. When Robyn Smyth assigned the 2017 Water class the task of reporting on the source of drinking water and the fate of wastewater in their home towns, the students’ presentations took us from New York City and Niagara Falls to a small rural town in Maine, and from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Armed with that knowledge, students progressed to evaluating reports on water quality. This is just a glimpse of the potential for involving students of all ages in water issues in their back yards. That engagement and interest is critical to understanding how watersheds affect each of us personally. It’s key to encouraging future water protectors.
This fall, the watershed group asked the Water class for help with evaluating stream buffers along the Saw Kill. Students reviewed detailed stream maps and assessed buffer width. From their work, the watershed group will compile an inventory of areas along the stream where existing healthy buffers should be protected, and areas where buffer restoration is needed. The students’ interest encouraged me, as they shared dilemmas about how to evaluate buffer “problem” areas on the maps.
The students help the watershed group with information, but what strikes me most is their enthusiasm and interest. That energy is critically important to local volunteers. No citizens’ group has an unlimited supply.
The SKWC is considering other opportunities for teaming with Bard students, including outreach to high school and elementary students via stream biomonitoring and other science programs.
THURST PARTNERS ARE BARD COLLEGE, SIENA COLLEGE, CORNELL UNIVERSITY, PACE UNIVERSITY, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE, AND SUNY COBLESKILL
Additional collaboration is available through “Thurst” (The Hudson River Subwatershed & Tributary Research Network), a partnership of colleges and universities that addresses water research of scientific and community significance. Participant colleges representing five watersheds are working together on a pilot project to determine how land use and watershed conditions affect winter salt transport to the Hudson River’s tributaries. The partnership pools resources, provides collaborative learning for students, and will produce useful information for local watershed groups.
INTO THE FUTURE
Water protection is a long-term commitment. Many watershed groups last only as long as the stamina of their founders; often the task of keeping a group going is left to one or two community leaders who eventually burn out. In other cases, watershed groups affiliated with a college or university have been absorbed into these institutions at the expense of local resident participation. The Red Hook group has set its sights on making this town/village/college partnership a long-term effort that works for everyone. After all, we share the water!
Too often, news headlines about water problems are a recurring “you have to be kidding me” horror story about people in power demonstrating utter disregard for taking care of water resources: Contaminants seeping into rivers, lakes and wetlands. Pollution ruining wells. Flooding. Competition for water supply. Those who work to protect watersheds are susceptible to discouragement and burnout. Students bring new energy to these efforts, refreshing the rest of us and encouraging us to look to the future with optimism. Whether we are eighty or eighteen, we share a common interest in keeping our waters clean and abundant—celebrating the science and the community that enable us to work together.
November’s community meeting focused on flooding- mitigation strategies and our watershed’s role. Carolyn Klocker and Karen Schneller-McDonald started off the evening by discussing flooding and our watersheds. Flooding is a normal part of stream function, however the intensity and frequency of flood events has increased with changes in climate and land use. As communitys look to respond to increased flooding, their watershed can play an important role in natural flood protection. Protecting our wetlands and buffers were examples of preventative measures that can be more cost effective than remediation or elaborate infrastructure. You can view Karen’s presentation here.
Beth Roessler from the NYS Dec Hudson River Estuary Program presented on stream buffers and flood protection. She defined the different terms used in talking about buffers, terms which can often be confused. The riparian area being the interface between land and waterbody. This area is unique with different soils and the wildlife it supports. A riparian buffer is the vegetated protective area between a waterbody and human activity. And the flood plain is the area which can be expected to flood (either frequently or in 100 year events). A healthy buffer filters pollutants and nutrients, provides temperature control, recharges groundwater, controls flooding and erosion, and provides habitat. It should be wide, at least 100 feet is a good rule of thumb, have many types and sizes of resilient plants, provide shade and leaf litter. An unhealthy buffer is paved or built up, manicured lawn, hardened or eroded banks, and full of invasives. When looking to restore a buffer area, targeted areas should protect floodplains, headwater streams and wetlands. They should reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and be restored smartly with plants that can handle conditions like sediment build up. There are tools for the local to state scale, but one highlighted state-wide program is Trees for Tribs. The SKWC has worked with Trees for Tribs in the past on different properties in the watershed. The program provides native trees and shrubs, plant protection, recommendations, education and planting demonstrations. For more information on the program, see here, and if you have a potential site in the watershed you would like to see restored, let us know!
The last presentation was from Red Hook CAC member, Jen Cavanaugh. She gave an update on the Flood Mitigation Assessment Project. A team of engineers, watershed scientists, flood managers, and community members have been working to assess the history of flooding in the area and possible solutions for in the future. After being out in the field and getting local input, geomorphic assessments, hydrologic/hydraulic assessments, and researching flood mitigation strategies and management methods, they are finalizing their report and presenting to stakeholders in public meetings. Their work found problem areas along the Saw Kill (mostly in the lower reaches), and identified possible solutions. We encourage you to come out to their public meetings to learn more.
To read the full meeting minutes, take a look here. We are excited to continue our work even as the days get chillier. Our next water quality monitoring day is Friday, Dec. 8th. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Tierney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our next community meeting, and last of the 2017 year, will be on Wednesday, Dec. 13th at the Elmendorph Inn. Hope to see you out in the watershed soon!
Bard College and the Good Work Institute will copresent a series of discussions, called the Hudson Valley Climate Salon Series, over four Sundays in October and November at Montgomery Place. These sessions will provide a clear and honest assessment of the local risks and challenges that come with changing climate. The Hudson Valley Climate Change Salon Series will be hosted on Sunday October 29, November 5, November 12, and November 19, from 2:30pm to 5:30pm at Bard College: The Montgomery Place Campus, 26 Gardener Way, Red Hook, New York. This series is made possible with support from Dandelion and Hudson Solar. Admission is a ‘pay what you wish’ donation.
From raging wildfires to this year’s unprecedented hurricane season, there is ample evidence that an unstable climate is wreaking havoc around the world. The Climate Salon Series aims to bring the climate discussion home to the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, and to enable participants to gain a deeper understanding of the potential impacts of a changing climate on our communities.
These sessions will also offer tools and tactics for addressing these changes, and the inspiration to help build more connected and resilient local communities. Each Salon will explore a different theme, and will be preceded by related experiential activities.
October 29: The Hudson River
With Jon Bowermeister (filmmaker), Libby Zemaitis (NY D.E.C), and Christian Crouch (Bard College)
Activity: Hudson Canoe and Kayak Trip with Susan Rogers (Bard College)
November 5th: Farming
With Gidon Eshel (Bard College), Elizabeth Ryan (Stone Ridge Orchards)
Activity: Montgomery Orchard Farm Tour with Talea and Doug Taylor (Montgomery Place Orchards)
November 12: Forests
With Cathy Collins (Bard College), Gary Lovett (Cary Institute), John Thompson (Catskill Center)
Activity: Tree identification and Climate Change Walk with Amy Parella (Bard College)
November 19: Lyme and Other Tick-borne Diseases
With Felicia Keesing (Bard College) and Richard Ostfeld (Cary Institute)
Activity: Tick Identification and Protection Lab With Felicia Keesing (Bard College) and Richard Ostfeld (Cary Institute)
Presenting partners include Chronogram, Climate Citizens Lobby, Hawthorne Valley Farm Association, La Voz, Bard Center for Environmental Policy, Bard Environmental and Urban Studies Program.
About Good Work Institute
Founded in mid-2015, the Good Work Institute is a non-profit organization with a mission to educate and connect a network of local community members and actively support their collaborative efforts to regenerate their places. We run fellowship programs, workshops and classes, and are currently developing Greenhouse Kingston, an incubator space for local, regenerative initiatives. More information at: goodworkintitute.org
Dandelion is a home geothermal company, with a breakthrough renewable heating and cooling solution. Dandelion offers high-performance equipment and a proprietary, low-cost installation process that allows homeowners to save money by switching from conventional heating fuels to geothermal heating and cooling. To learn more, visit us at: dandelionenergy.com/
About Hudson Solar
Hudson Solar is a leader in the design and installation of solar energy systems.
We are a New York–based, family-owned business serving upstate New York. We design and install systems for residential, commercial, agriculture and municipal/non-profit organizations. Hudson Solar is a proud employer of military veterans.
In place of our October meeting we would like to invite you to participate in the Dutchess County Watershed Roundtable on Thursday, November 2nd as members of the Saw Kill Watershed Community.
What is the event?: A meeting of Dutchess County watershed groups aimed at discussing common issues & goals and fostering partnership and collaboration. For the first half of the evening, groups will provide a brief overview of their watershed, current issues it’s facing, ongoing projects, and goals. The second half of the evening will consist of breakout sessions to further discuss the issues and to collaborate on solutions.
When: Thursday, November 2, 2017 – 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM
Monday night’s panel, Protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A regulatory and policy perspective, took place in the Red Hook Community Center, and in partnership with Hudson Valley Regional Council. The panel consisted of members of surrounding communities affected by water quality issues, and those from organizations such as the DEC, Riverkeeper, and Pace University Land Use Law Center. While the title of the panel focused on our own Saw Kill Watershed, the focus in the room was on hearing one another’s stories, and connecting on a regional watershed level. Our watershed is one small piece of a larger puzzle; the panel inspired learning from our neighboring watersheds as well as thinking on how to strengthen our connections.
Karen Schneller-McDonald, from the SKWC leadership team, started off the evening with a presentation on the Saw Kill as a drinking water source. The presentation covered both the pathways of water through the water cycle, and how the watershed impacts the waterway- both essential for understanding where and how issues in water quality come up. The major issues facing water quality are over consumption, waste, contamination, and development. Challenges to protecting water from these issues come from gaps in regulatory protections, lack of up to date water quality regulations, and differences in regulatory thresholds. In the Saw Kill Watershed, drinking water comes from the Saw Kill for Bard, and in groundwater (connected to the Saw Kill) for municipal and privately-owned wells. The SKWC formed, not in response to a water quality crisis, but to take a proactive stance in preventing possible future crises, build community around watershed issues, and monitor watershed health.
The first panel was made up of members from the Newburgh Clean Water Project and Newburgh Conservation Advisory Council, and citizens of Hopewell Junction and Hoosick Falls. Each panelist offered stories of their experience with dealing with water contamination in their community. In Newburgh, they are currently dealing with PFO contamination in their city drinking water from a nearby U.S Department of Defense guard base, in Hopewell Junction there are ongoing effects of Hopewell Precision contaminants found in private homeowner wells, and in Hoosick Falls, it took citizens independently examining the connection between health and industry on their water supply to call attention to the EPA. In each instance, panelists spoke to how the crises pushed them to become engaged in their communities in a way they had never imagined. They shared a frustration in learning how to navigate the existing systems and regulations, as well as a drive to find creative solutions for their communities and a necessity to leave one’s comfort zone behind to best help their community.
The second panel featured representatives from the DEC HREP source water protection program, Riverkeeper, and Pace University Land Use Law Center. They spoke on resources and tools communities can use to navigate the type of water quality issues presented in the first panel. This panel made three key points for me. 1) The importance of understanding the legal framework, and roles of each level of government. Federal, State, County, and local levels are all active in water quality management, but have differing responsibilities and abilities to act. 2) A large role of different institutions is in providing education to communities. Being proactive in providing education is a good first step in creating a community response. And 3) regardless of the political level, there is a need for actionable plans. Identifying and educating about the problem should lead towards a plan to fix or prevent the problem.
In our Q&A, we discussed how this information is useful for the Saw Kill Watershed Community, but also how we can focus our attention outside of us towards our region. As Karen said in her presentation: “water doesn’t follow municipal boundaries, it follows watershed boundaries”. For me, this point was the thru line for the entire evening. It came up as we learned how municipalities are often in separate watersheds from their drinking water source, as we heard about Newburgh’s industry that uses water for products that are shipped elsewhere, how Hopewell Junction’s pollutants were carried outside of their immediate vicinity. The panel ended with a discussion on the importance of thinking regionally to learn from and help other communities, as well as how our watersheds affect one another. I was reminded of Clearwater’s recent slogan “all our waters are connected; all our waters must be protected”.
Thank you to all the speakers for sharing your stories and your expertise. Thank you to everyone who came out to learn and engage with the community. Thank you to the Hudson Valley Regional Council for putting on this event and others like it. And, thank you to the Red Hook Community Center for providing such a wonderful space for this event.