Thank you everyone who came out to our December meeting!
For those who couldn’t make it: We went over events from 2017 – our new water lab space at Bard, the Hudson Valley Regional Council Panel in September, the group watershed event at Cornell Cooperative Extension in October, and outreach events like tabling at Hardscrabble day.
Eli Dueker went over the ongoing State of the Saw Kill project. The report asks the questions: How is the watershed? Are there weak spots? What actions can we take? It looks at factors surrounding watershed quality and health, and compares it to historical data. Quality factors consider parameters such as salts/conductivity, turbidity, bacteria, temperature, nitrogen and phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and chemistry. Watershed health looks at buffers, floodplains, small wetland and streams, land use, species of conservation concern, invasives, dams and culverts, and water use.
After two years of monitoring the Saw Kill, we have so much data! So now we can start thinking about what to do with it. This report will help us consider the watershed as a whole and identify areas we want to focus on. There’s a lot of work to be done, but with the community and the resources available to us, we are on our way to creating a meaningful impact.
We are excited for the upcoming year! We heard great feedback and ideas from community members at the meeting, and look forward to acting on those in the new year.
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.
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
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.
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