Take aways from HVRC Panel – Protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A regulatory and policy perspective

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.

HVRC panel

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.

 

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Upcoming panel on protecting our drinking water

Protecting Drinking Water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A Regulatory and Policy Perspective

Monday, September 25, 2017, 6:00 pm-8:30 pm

Red Hook Community Center, 59 Fisk St., Red Hook

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Join us for a community meeting and discussion with a panel of experts to learn more about the Saw Kill Watershed as a drinking water source. Topics include:

  • Why it’s important to protect water supplies throughout the watershed.
  • How the community can respond to water supply contamination.
  • How to use laws, policies, tools, and other resources available for protecting drinking water.

Bring your questions, concerns, and ideas! We will have plenty of time for discussion and responses to questions.

Refreshments will be provided.

This meeting is a Hudson River Regional Council event in collaboration with the Saw Kill Watershed Community.

This event is free, but registration is required. To register, please go to http://bit.ly/2gHVFzR.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Taking our community meeting to the Saw Kill

We hope everyone is enjoying the summer months and getting plenty of time to explore the watershed. The weather is too nice to ignore, so we are taking our monthly community meeting outside and to the Saw Kill!

saw kill watershed community skwc water sampling

Please join us this Wednesday, July 19th from 6:30-7:30pm. We will be walking along the portion of Saw Kill Creek that runs through Bard campus with Hudsonia naturalist Gretchen Stevens. This is an exciting opportunity to learn more about the ecology of the Saw Kill, take a look at one of the dams, and spend some time together outdoors as a community. Families are welcome!

If you would like more information, please email Tierney (SKWC intern) at tw4287@bard.edu.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Rose Hill Farm Tree Planting

A huge thank you to all of the wonderful volunteers that came out Halloween weekend to plant trees with us!!! We planted 120 trees in a little over an hour!  Another thank you to Scenic Hudson and Tree’s for Tribs for facilitating such a wonderful event and doing the amazing work you do! And lastly, an enormous thank you to Rose Hill Farm for their support and enthusiasm for the project, as well as the yummy cider and cider doughnuts!

 

 

The trees were planted alongside a tributary of the Saw Kill. Tree plantings along waterways are super important for establishing riparian zones, which can help prevent erosion and excess nutrients or pollutants getting in to the water. This tributary will eventually flow in to the Saw Kill, so by protecting inputs here we help protect the larger watershed.

Another big thank you to everyone for a great event!!!!