Earth Day #50

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. It gave voice to an emerging consciousness about the health of our planet. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”,  a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, Ohio’s Cayahuga River on fire, set the stage, sparked by the energy of the anti-war protest movement. The mood across the country was optimistic, as a Washington Post article described: “A great outpouring of Americans— several million in all likelihood— demonstrated yesterday their practical concern for a livable environment on this earth. So many politicians, in fact, took part in yesterday’s Earth Day activities that the United States Congress shut down. Scores of senators and congresssmen fanned out across the country to appear at rallies, teach-ins, and street demonstrations.”

On Earth Day, 1970, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets in rallies, marches, and teach-ins across the country. (https://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/04/22/april-22-1970-the-first-earth-day-draws-millions/)

Earth Day 1970 put environmental concerns on the front page, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural dwellers, people of all ages and backgrounds. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.

Can you imagine?

Earth Day, 2019 is the fiftieth time we will celebrate this awareness of planet earth. Though the general condition of our air and water have improved because of the the EPA and the Acts mentioned above, we are beset by many of the same problems we faced in 1970: repeated oil spills, contaminated water, pesticides and other chemicals that are killing bees and making us sick, and worse, the specter of climate change. Warming oceans, massive floods, fires, extinctions, violent storms: Now we face not only local and national consequences but also global consequences of our actions.

Complicating our response to these problems is a government in Washington that is hellbent on removing many of the protections so painstakingly put into place. Industrial agriculture, fossil fuel companies, and other corporate entities have been lobbying for these changes for years, trying to chip away at land, air, water, and health protections. Let’s make it easier to drill for more oil, frack more natural gas, build more pipelines, and dismantle the protections put into place in the 1970’s.

What happened?

And what can we do about it? How can we regain vision and action of the first earth day, with real hope for clean air and water, a better future for planet earth and for us all?

I think it’s already happening. Amid overwhelming evidence that we are on the wrong path if what we seek is a sustainable future on planet earth, something else has emerged: a new generation of awareness and action.

Kids as young as 9 or 10 are recognizing the problems caused by climate change  and are finding their voice through action. Take a look at this short film, “Kids vs Global Warming,” how a 13 year old in Ventura learned that his voice matters (//www.youngvoicesfortheplanet.com/youth-climate-videos/kids-vs-global-warming/ ). You can find more inspiring stories on the Young Voices for the Planet website at  https://www.youngvoicesfortheplanet.com/youth-climate-videos/.

Something is clicking into place. Across the world, kids are finding a voice, pooling their energy, speaking truth to power. They get it. They know what’s wrong and what caused it, and they know what needs to happen to address the harm. The necessary changes will not be small, or easy; they will change our lives. Marches for Climate and Science, sit-ins and demonstrations, Earth Day celebrations and projects, addressing politicians, growing community support, challenging fossil fuel and industrial agriculture’s corporate greed. Those busy amassing power and money at the expense of our air, our water, our earth— must be relegated to the past. Our lives depend on it, and our kids know this! They are not afraid of changes to the status quo.

Climate change is inevitable. To what degree will we take charge of that change—or just be its victims?

This Earth Day, lets give all who stand up for real change— students and non students alike—a round of applause. Encourage them, support them, join them, and help kick the obstacles to success out of the way!

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Saw Kill Watershed Community Celebration!

We started off our meeting with Lindsey Drew, manager of Bard Water Lab, providing a update on the Saw Kill’s water quality. Lindsey explained that the Bard Water Lab tests four main water quality parameters which are: temperature, conductivity, turbidity and sewage indicating bacteria. It’s important to measure temperature because it affects aquatic and plant life. On average, the temperature of 2018 is higher than 2017, and the Saw Kill is warming. Fortunately, there are some measures we can take to counteract this warming such as maintaining buffers and reducing stagnant waters. The next parameter revealed is conductivity, which is vital to measure because it is an indicator for salinity, which is affected by road salt. From 2016 to 2018, conductivity levels have decreased. The next parameter described is turbidity, the amount of particles in water. Overall, turbidity levels in 2018 are higher than 2016 and 2017. Lastly, she discussed about Enterococci and E. coli, which are significant indicators of water contamination. The 2018 levels of Enterococci concentration and E. coli is lower than 2017. To read more about the presentation, click here.

After this quick update, we spent our last community meeting of the year by mingling with our fellow community members and celebrating with wine and cheese! It was a great time for everybody, and there were lots of laughter and bonding. Hope everyone has a Happy Holidays and will see you all next year!

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If you’re interested in joining the monthly samplings, please get in touch with Lindsey Drew at ldrew@bard.edu. Don’t forget to get on our emailing list for reminders of our monthly community meetings by getting in touch with Dxina Mannello at dmannello@bard.edu.

November’s Community Meeting: Updates on the Saw Kill and Community Discussion

November’s community meeting began with a report from Elisa Chae, former staff for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Her presentation was a draft evaluating Saw Kill’s source water (drinking water). The final report is aimed to be completed by December 13. Elisa explained that the analysis of the Saw Kill involved reviewing several information such as the Saw Kill Watershed Flood Mitigation Assessment, and the Riverkeeper Source Water Protection Score Card. It also involved the usage of a lot of GIS Data such as the Saw Kill Watershed Boundary, Public Water Systems, Water Protections and Land protections. The goals of the report are to determine environmental disparities and identify regions with potentially shared interests.

Elisa's presentation

Next, Karen Schenner-McDonald reviewed the SKWC Draft Drinking Water Protection Recommendation Outline, which provided recommendations to the Town of Red Hook. The first recommendation is to establish and maintain 100 feet buffers along all outskirts of the watershed’s body to better protect the watershed. The second recommendation is to keep contaminants out of all bodies of water. We can accomplish this by reducing stormwater runoff and road salt usage. The third recommendation is to maintain forests and recharge areas in order to protect the source water. It is best to be at least 60 to 65% forested throughout the watershed. The last recommendation is to increase flood mitigation by means of preserving and expanding buffers in flood susceptible areas.

Afterwards, Karen facilitated a strong community discussion regarding ideas, comments, or recommendations to the Town of Red Hook. Some topics that were discussed included the question if the SKWC tested pharmaceuticals and chemicals in the Saw Kill. Some responses included that we may have tested that in the past, but we are currently not testing it. There was also discussion on the significance of working with and providing resources to community members such as information on how to take care of the land above water.

Lastly, Kaare Christian, member of the Roe Jan Watershed community, gave us a brief update about the Roe Jan, which is a watershed along Route 9. Like our community, they also have a citizen science sampling project. According to recent data, the Roe Jan has great water quality under the EPA standards. How great is that!

To learn more about our meeting, click here for our meeting minutes. To join our next water quality monitoring of the Saw Kill on December 14, get in touch with Lindsey Drew, ldrew@bard.edu. Don’t forget, our next community meeting is on December 12 at the Elmendorph Inn. Please contact Dxina Mannello, dmannello@bard.edu, to get on the email list. Hope to see you there!

Synopsis of October’s Meeting

October’s community meeting was super exciting, with high levels of engagement and participation from community members. We hope for this high level of energy to continue into our next meetings! We started off the meeting with guest speaker Robyn Smyth, Professor at Bard College, who discussed about harmful algae blooms, also known as HABs. HABs are a global issue and they produce toxins that are harmful to aquatic and human life. However, Robyn made a clear distinction that not all algae are harmful, and they are significant to the ecosystem. They are the base of the food chain and produces oxygen! HABs are driven by excess nutrients. For example, when we put excess fertilizers, it accumulates and runs off into the lake/ river, which encourages the overgrowth of algae (an algal bloom). When they die, they deplete the oxygen levels in the water and sink to the bottom of the water. This process is known as eutrophication. HABs are also driven by climate change! In particular, in the Northeast, we are experiencing less rainstorms; however, they are much more intense. This results in erosion, which also contributes to excess nutrients into bodies of water. Some potential solutions are applying algaecides or using forms of artificial mixing. If you suspect a harmful algal bloom, do not touch it! Please take pictures of it and send them to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. To read more about algae blooms click here for Robyn’s presentation.

Next, we had Hunter Matis, an undergraduate senior at Bard College, to demonstrate the Flowcam. The Flowcam is an incredible machine that functions like a microscope. You can pour water samples into the Flowcam, and it is able to capture photos of the organisms that are in the water. Isn’t that super cool?! To check out some of the organisms, click here for Hunter’s presentation.

Afterwards, we had a great community conversation discussing about concerning farm practices. Eli Dueker made an awe-inspiring point that it is important for people who care about our water (and the environment) and farmers to come together as a community to try to tackle environmental issues. Karen McDonald also added that it is vital to support farmers but also recognize the bad farming practices and try to fix it. Another community member that beautifully wrapped up this conversation mentioned, “The question we should be proposing is ‘How can we help? And how can we come together?’”

To read more about the meeting, click here for the meeting minutes. In addition, come and join us on our water quality monitoring of the Saw Kill on November 9. Lastly, our next community meeting is on November 14 at the Elmendorph Inn. Hope to see you all out at the sampling site!

Summer Days

Coming back to sample in the Saw Kill during the summer was amazing. It was a great experience to be able to enjoy and appreciate nature- trees and plants are fully bloomed. Every angle of the Saw Kill was beautiful and the sun’s warmth contributed to the perfect sampling morning. Here are some photos of the Saw Kill so you can enjoy its beauty too!

It was also great sampling with new student volunteers from the Bard Summer Research Institute (BSRI). It was exciting to learn about the Saw Kill from different perspectives.  Using a dipper, we collected water and placed it into a bottle. Using the YSI, a water quality monitoring equipment, we tested the conductivity, temperature, and level of dissolved oxygen. We also took observation notes of the Saw Kill. Here are some awesome action photos!

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If interested in our next month’s sampling, please contact Victoria Choy at: “vc5769@bard.edu”.

The Big May Meeting: The State of the Saw Kill Forum!

Thank you to everyone who presented and attended the forum! It was great seeing so many people and learning so much more about the Saw Kill.

May’s meeting was a huge presentation about the overall condition of the Saw Kill Watershed. Carolyn Klocker, a member of the SKWC Leadership Team, began the meeting by explaining the mission of the SKWC, which is to protect the Saw Kill Watershed through science, education and advocacy. Carolyn then introduced Karen Schneller-McDonald, the chair of the Leadership Team. Karen explained more in depth about the mission of the SKWC. Our science programs that we facilitate comprises of our monthly water monitoring, the eel monitoring, and the salamander migration. We educate communities and people by holding monthly meetings and student research. Moreover, we advocate for the watershed holding community discussions and encouraging communities to enjoy the Saw Kill.

Next, Eli Dueker, member of the SKWC Leadership Team, described the value of the Saw Kill; it is extremely beautiful, and it provides recreational uses for many people. In addition, the watershed is a drinking water supply for the Bard community. Eli then focused on the interpretation of sewage indicators on the Saw Kill. He revealed that there were lots of contamination from 1967 to 1982, which was illustrated through the analysis of the fecal indicating bacteria. Fortunately, today, most sites have low levels of contamination, except for Brenner Road. This means that we should do more sampling near that area. We also seem to have an increasing amount of nitrate which could be related to an increase of lawn fertilizers. Stuart Findlay took over and continued presenting on the overall quality of the Saw Kill. Stuart disclosed that the Saw Kill has moderate nutrient concentration which is normal because the Hudson Valley has some areas of development near the watersheds. Moreover, issues of algae aren’t severe. Ultimately, the Saw Kill is well studied, and we should continue with the work.

Afterward, Katherine Meierdiercks, a professor at Siena College, presented about the impacts of road salt. It was revealed that the usage of salt in the U.S. had increased, and the concentration of salt in surface water typically surpasses EPA standards. Essentially, salt concentrations increase as time and urbanization increases. Fortunately, salt concentrations in the Saw Kill are below EPA and NYSDEC standards. Next, Jen Cavanaugh, member of the Red Hook CAC, assessed the effectiveness of the Saw Kill Watershed’s flood mitigation. Jen recommended infrastructure that needed to be fixed. Such recommendations included the removal of the Annandale dam, replacement of the 9G bridge, and realignment of the Echo Valley Bridge.

Lastly, Dan Shapley, director of Riverkeeper, suggested proactive steps that communities can take to protect their drinking supply. Such steps comprised of the usage of the Riverkeeper score and partnering with NGOs. Dan also disclosed the issue of water contamination in New York State, such as the Newburgh crises. We finally wrapped up the meeting by having an open discussion with community members on potential steps to help the Saw Kill, possible solutions, and concerns and issues. Some potential steps that were concluded were naming public access point and conducting source water evaluation. Some possible solutions listed were connecting people to the Saw Kill and conducting further treatment by using the wastewater treatment plant. Ultimately, some concerns and issues that were voiced is the potential overloading of septic tanks in Red Hook and over usage of lawn fertilizers.

To read more about the meeting, take a look at the meeting minutes here. The next SKWC water sampling event is on June 8! If interested in volunteering, please email Clara Woolner at: cwoolner@bard.edu.