August Community Meeting Update

Last night we had a wonderful community meeting at the Historic Elmendorph Inn. Presentations focused on drinking water and public/private engagement whether through well testing or new sewer projects. If you were unable to make it, please see our meeting minutes to see what you missed.

Karen Schneller McDonald and Carolyn Klocker gave a joint presentation on connecting our drinking water to our watershed. Karen’s presentation helped ground us in water cycle basics and how land use activities affect both the supply and quality of water throughout the cycle. We discussed how increased pumping of groundwater effects stream recharge, which was a timely topic due to the Red Hook town board’s public hearing on a moratorium on large water withdrawals from town streams and aquifers. Karen was also our SKWC representative to attend the hearing and read a letter of support signed by the SKWC.

Carolyn’s presentation went further into why watershed protection is so important as it is connected to our drinking water. We discussed stream classification and regulation of privately owned wells. Unlike public wells, private wells are not regulated by the Department of Health and are therefore up to the owner of the well to test and maintain. She recommended the EPA as a good source for more information on where and how to get your well tested.

Our second presentation was from Village of Red Hook Mayor Ed Blundell, Deputy Mayor Brent Kovalchik, and Ed Vopelak (Engineer, C. T. Male) on Phase One of the Village sewer project. This is the Village’s third attempt at a sewer project. This time the project is focused primarily on the dense commercial business district of the Village. The project looks hopeful as they have secured the funding they need through grants and low interest loans. They described the “STEP system”  they will be putting in, that connects individual septic systems to a main system and waste treatment center. They stressed the importance of the system both for groundwater health and economic development.

The meeting was full of good conversation and questions between presenters, community members, representatives from different organizations such as Riverkeeper, and municipal members. We are very excited for next month’s meeting which will be a panel on protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill watershed. Save the date for Monday September 25th, and take note of the different location at Red Hook’s new Community Center.

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Bard freshman get introduced to the Saw Kill

The Saw Kill runs through the communities of Milan, Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Annandale-on-Hudson. It empties in to the South Tivoli Bays after a meandering last stretch through Bard College’s campus. For many students, the Saw Kill means the waterfall, or the student run cafe. Lesser known, is that the Saw Kill is where the college takes in its drinking water, and further downstream is where their treated waste water is released. Bard’s use of the Saw Kill and close presence make the institution an important stakeholder in the watershed.

Last week, 400 plus freshman arrived on campus for orientation. As part of their orientation, we wanted students to learn more about the watershed and community they are now calling home. We tabled at events and talked to students about their drinking water, what a watershed means, and how they can get engaged in their community.

This past Sunday, we took a group of freshman on a hike a long the Saw Kill. With Sarah Mount from the DEC, Bard science faculty, and Bard upperclassmen, we talked about the Saw Kill, the ecology of the area, the Bard experience, and the larger Hudson River watershed we are connected to. At the mouth of the Saw Kill we donned waders to kick net for benthic macroinvertebrates and seine for fish. We were lucky enough to find some cool critters like the Dobson Fly Larvae and Dragonfly larvae, some Killifish, along with our favourite american eel in its elver stage.

Students were excited to be out in the Saw Kill, and interested in furthering their engagement with the Saw Kill and their new community. We are so happy to welcome the Bard class of 2021 to the watershed!

 

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Community Meeting on Wednesday, August 23rd

Please join us for our next community meeting on Wednesday, August 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the historic Elmendorph Inn in Red Hook.

We’ll have two really valuable presentations at this meeting. Karen Schneller McDonald and Carolyn Klocker will be talking about connecting your drinking water to the watershed. How does the watershed affect the water from your well or the local water system? And how does what you do about your drinking water affect the watershed?

They’ll be followed by Brent Kovalchik, Deputy Mayor, Village of Red Hook, who will give us an update and take comments and questions on Phase 1 of the village sewer project.

We’ll wrap up the evening with community comments and questions.

For our September community meeting, we’ll be participating in a workshop, Protecting Drinking Water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A Regulatory and Policy Perspective, in conjunction with the Hudson Valley Regional Council (HVRC). This free event will be held on Monday, September 25, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Red Hook Community Center (59 Fisk Street).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Washington Plan Threatens Our Water

Written by SKWC member Karen Schneller-McDonald

Plans afoot in Washington threaten water protection.

Recently, the Trump administration rescinded the Stream Protection Rule, which protected water quality at mountaintop removal mining sites. Now the President has directed EPA to review the Clean Water Rule for conflicts with his economic growth agenda. EPA has begun a two-part plan to rescind the Rule and change the definition of Waters of the U.S. in the Clean Water Act.

What’s the Clean Water Rule?

The Rule is the product of four years of EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers peer-reviewed hydrological studies, interagency reviews, economic analyses and input from a variety of public and private organizations. It updates the federal Clean Water Act by clarifying the definition of  “Waters of the U.S. ”which determines what water resources qualify for protection under the Act. This was done to address regulatory confusion resulting from several court cases.

What’s At Stake? 

The Clean Water Rule clarified the definition while effectively protecting the quality and supply of our water. However, the current administration prefers a much narrower definition that would protect fewer wetlands and streams—up to 60 percent of our water resources are in jeopardy of losing current protection. One in three Americans gets their drinking water from a source that wouldn’t qualify for protection under proposed changes in the definition.

“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. The goal is protecting business/corporate interests, not our water. This approach is a reaction to anger by the agriculture and energy industries, which have long said the Clean Water Act gives regulators too much authority.

Despite Pruitt’s insistence that, “We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” many states lack such protections altogether. New York, for example, doesn’t protect wetlands of less than 12.4 acres.
The Act is necessary to protect the water resources we depend on. If anything, these resources need more protection, not less, as our demand for water increases, our output of wastes into water increases, and climate change delivers more intense storms, runoff and flooding.

Small wetlands and streams are like the capillaries in your body, critical for your health. By reducing protections, the administration in Washington is saying that you don’t need those capillaries—they’re small and insignificant. This disregards the scientific evidence showing us that a network of small wetlands and streams collectively purifies, collects and stores water; maintains human and ecosystem health; reduces the damage from stormwater runoff and flooding; supports property value and recreation; and sustains food sources.

Water Is Life!

We all have a right to an adequate supply of clean water. Because water doesn’t conform to state boundaries, water protection requires national regulation of the activities that affect wetlands and streams. This protection will not happen unless we insist on it.

Get involved! Write a letter to the EPA in support retaining the current Clean Water Rule. Details are at the end of this post.

Challenge this latest plan for proposed rollback of water protection, and stand by for the next installment.

Your Letter Counts

When to write: The sooner the better. Comments must be received on or before August 28, 2017.

Where to write: Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–HQ– OW–2017–0203, at http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

Sample letter and more information: For details and sample letter, see the Trout Unlimited site at http://bit.ly/2vKQ7ho

Check out our data on Riverkeeper’s site

Every month, SKWC citizen scientists go out and collect samples from 14 different locations along the Saw Kill. They record observations and data such as temperature and salinity. The samples are then taken to the Bard Water Lab, where they are processed for parameters such as sewage indicating bacteria, nutrients, and turbidity.

But what happens to that data? We present lots of our findings at our monthly community meetings. And now, thanks to Riverkeeper, you can view our findings on Enterococcus counts online. Their interactive map shows our sampling locations, and data alongside environmental conditions such as rain events.

saw kill riverkeeper map

Entero what? Enterococcus is a bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other warm blooded animals. It’s called “fecal indicating” because of its presence in human sewage. Therefore, an abundance of enterococcus in the water can correlate with sewage contamination. The EPA uses enterococcus counts to regulate water safety. Riverkeeper shows these counts alongside rainfall data as rain events often trigger fecal contamination. Looking at the two side by side helps us understand whether enterococcus levels are weather related or due to other factors.

Take a look around the site! They have lots of interesting information on water quality, as well as data on surrounding watersheds. The map reminds us of our watershed’s connection to surrounding watersheds and communities. It’s exciting to see our separate data collections coming together to create a larger, more complex picture.

 

 

Electrofishing below the Annandale Dam

On Tuesday, two Saw Kill interns and a Bard student Office of Sustainability intern went electrofishing with the DEC. We donned our waders, with nets in hand, to look at what kind of fish diversity exists below the Annandale Dam.saw kill electrofish 1

The way electrofishing works is by a handheld probe in the water that delivers a small electrical current. This shocks the fish for about 5 seconds, allowing enough time for a net to scoop them up in to a bucket. The DEC is interested in looking at what kind of biodiversity exists in the Saw Kill, but were also particularly interested in the eel population. The dams and waterfalls along the Saw Kill make eel migration tough, but they still manage to make it, proved by the large eel we found close to the dam.

 

Along with the american eel, we found a mixture of native and non native fish such as a brown trout, white sucker, largemouth bass, cutlips, bluegill, rock bass, spiny cheak crawfish,redfin pickerals, black nosed dace, yellow bullhead, and tessellated darters. I had never seen most of the above mentioned fish before, and it was exciting to learn about them and see how diverse the Saw Kill is. Thanks to the DEC for including us in  a great afternoon!

 

Community walk along the Saw Kill

Last week we had an awesome walk along the portion of the Saw Kill that runs through Bard campus with ecologist Gretchen Stevens from Hudsonia. It was a beautiful summer night, and a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, and meet some new faces. It was wonderful to see families, students, folks from different Hudson Valley environmental groups, and community members from Red Hook and Milan all out together.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 1

Our conversation, as we stopped at different points along the Saw Kill, focused on the ecology of the river and the much discussed micro-hydro project. Gretchen confirmed what we all know to be true, that our Saw Kill is a unique and special environment. It happens to be home to unique bird species such as the migrating Louisiana Waterthrush, and the Winter Wren. We also looked at rare plant species like the American Spikenard. We talked about the trout species, such as brown trout, that make their home in the Saw Kill. This ties into recent conversations on stream classification as the Saw Kill is designated class T for trout, as well as class B. And my favorite Hudson Estuary fish, the American Eel, got a special mention as we took a look at the eel bucket/ladder system on one of the existing dams.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 2

Many questions on the feasibility of a micro-hydro project, and consequences of such a project or dam removal were discussed. A group, that presented to the SKWC in February, has been putting together information on the possibility of micro hydro on one of the old dams along the Saw Kill. For the minutes of that meeting see here. This is an ongoing community conversation that is addressing questions surrounding habitat, migration, eel accessibility, sediment loading, flow, etc. in order to understand the effects of such a project.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 3

Along with all of the information gained, it was a wonderful opportunity to not just talk about the Saw Kill but experience the Saw Kill as a community.

We look forward to seeing everyone again at our next meeting, Wednesday, August 16th.