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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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

Waterway Protection: A Toolkit for Youth Leaders Around the World

Eco-Toolkit

Water: A global connector of communities around the world.  As populations increase, communities must collaborate to ensure continued access to clean drinking water.  As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, writes in the 2016 World Water Development Report, “water is essential to decent jobs and sustainable development. Now is the time to increase investments in protecting and rehabilitating water resources, including drinking water, as well as sanitation while focusing on generating employment.” The question is: How will the future caretakers of the world–the youth of our global community–learn how to protect water?

A team from the Saw Kill Watershed Community (SKWC), the Bard College Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), and Environmental and Urban Studies (EUS) program at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, New York) worked in collaboration with the student-led Eco-Squad of Astrakhan State University (Astrakhan, Russia), to establish a trans-national partnership based on the shared values of stewardship and environmental education for the protection of waterways. The team worked together over 10 months to create activities that engage youth in protecting water starting in the communities close to the Hudson and Volga River watersheds where Bard College and Astrakhan are located.

The materials are a compilation of cross-cultural education and stewardship activities that can help teachers, professors, educators and community leaders creatively engage young people both in and out of the classroom. The activities contained in this Toolkit reflect the combined efforts of all members of the team and are written in such a manner to reach a wide, international audience and to use in any community.

To download a copy in English or Russian, click a link below:

Note: This is a blog post about the US-Russia Exchange. These documents will be permanently filed here: https://sawkillwatershed.wordpress.com/waterway-protection-a-toolkit-for-youth-leaders-around-the-world/

An Unfinished History of the “by no means beautiful village of Annandale”

In 1988 an employee of Historic Hudson Valley (then owners of the Montgomery Place) wrote a 79-page history of Annandale, the hamlet near the mouth of the Saw Kill. With many maps and juicy details from historic documents, Pamela Goddard lays out a story of mills, farms, and estates developed, divided up, and passed from one generation of European-Americans to another. In the process the place names and the people’s names change, but you can recognize the old familiar Saw Kill through the many changes. To read more, download An Unfinished History of the “by no means beautiful village of Annandale”.

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“Map of Rhinebeck, previous to 1812” published in E.M. Smith’s History of Rhinebeck, 1881. As described in An Unfinished History of the “by no means beautiful village of Annandale” by Pamela Goddard, of Historic Hudson Valley, 1988

Day in the life of the Saw Kill

Last Thursday we participated in Day in the Life of the Hudson Estuary. This is an event that takes place all up and down the Hudson River to get communities out and learning about their watershed. Hundreds of school kids were out on the river, observing, doing science, having fun, and capturing a “snapshot” of what the river was like from NYC to Troy on this particular day.

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Red Hook high schoolers and volunteers singing about the estuary! Highhhh tide looooow tide!

We participated at Bard College on the site of where the Saw Kill flows in to Tivoli Bays. We had Red Hook high schoolers come to campus to learn from wonderful and enthusiastic student and community member volunteers.  We taught a total of 5 stations all focused on understanding the Saw Kill and the Hudson River.

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Fish station!

In water chemistry we took a look at PH, Dissolved Oxygen and temperature. We had fun comparing kit results with the YSI (a digital water quality probe). Another station looked at aquatic life- a great opportunity to get kids in waders as they seined for fish such as sunfish, tessellated darter, stickleback, and a juvenile striped bass–we also found crawdads! The muck group got to dig and splash around as they examined sediment and turbidity. The observation station looked for birds, showed off their artistic talents, and recorded the different trains and tug and barges that passed by. Lastly the watershed group got to discuss how our Saw Kill watershed connects to the larger Hudson River watershed, and compare it to watersheds around the world, like the Volga River, for local to global connections!

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Seining for fish

It was a beautiful day on the river. We sang songs, went on a hike, and engaged with science. There was a lot of good learning done, as well as a lot of fun had in the process. Thank you to all of the volunteers for their time and energy, and thank you to the Red Hook high schools for their enthusiasm! Hope to see you all again out in the watershed!

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Blog post by Tierney W and Photos by Tom O’Dowd

SKWC in Russia!

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Some SKWC members visited Astrakhan, Russia this week to exchange ideas about SKWC-like work. This was part of a Bard College Center for Civic Engagement and Environmental and Urban Studies program grant. This blog post is by Interim Leadership Team member Tom O’Dowd and Bard CCE Science Outreach Coordinator Siira Rieschl (3rd and 4th from the left here; Bard students Sammy Astrachan–yes that is his name–and Emma Donahue are 1st and 2nd from the left). The Volga is seen here from the Astrakhan Kremlin belltower.

Exchanging Ideas about Protecting Waterways through Youth Engagement

We’re writing from the Moscow Airport reflecting on an amazing week. Our friends from the Astrakhan State University Eco Squad taught us all about the Volga River watershed and how they train the next generation of environmental leaders to protect the Volga. Our ASU hosts Mischa, Denis, and Nastya guided us on exciting excursions to understand their environment and helped us get to know some of the professors, co-workers, project partners, and students working to protect the Volga and its delta. We have learned so much from each other, and plan to continue to collaborate on a toolkit for youth engagement, and also explore future collaborations such as research, publications, and exchanges!

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About the Volga River at Astrakhan

The Volga River is about 6 times as long as the Hudson River and the Astrakhan Oblast occupies the downstream area of the Volga Watershed as the river enters the land-locked Caspian Sea. The city of Astrakhan lies along the banks of the Volga itself, but is surrounded by many small rivers that make up the Volga Delta. It’s fascinating that the Volga begins with many tributaries and ends with many channels—it’s almost like the delta is a reverse-watershed. Just as the Saw Kill Watershed Community protects a small tributary of the Hudson, the Astrakhan State University’s Eco-Squad protects smaller channels throughout the Volga delta region, like the Churka. A river clean-up of the Churka, reminiscent of the Riverkeeper Sweep on the Hudson, had high school students collecting trash that floated onto land during the floods of the Spring wet season. It seems that Russia (like the U.S.) has its share of people who respect the health and beauty of the water, as well as those who don’t. This hands-on activity encourages youth to face head-on the health of the watershed in a way that tangibly complements their in-classroom experience.

Our excursions to explore the natural resources of the Volga were as varied as trips to a wildlife preserve, a sturgeon-breeding farm, various science labs, and a training center for Lukoil (a petroleum company that mines gas from platforms on the Caspian Sea). At the wildlife preserve we saw a landscape similar to that of the Tivoli Bays—Bard’s part of the Hudson River. There were cattails and willows, just like at Bard. There were also phragmites and water chestnut, nonnative and invasive plants at Bard, but apparently native to Astrakhan. We also saw the lotus, a symbol of Astrakhan, growing wild much the same way pickerelweed grows on the Hudson. It’s flowering season over, we sampled the seeds of the lotus fruit, which were delicious.

Sturgeon are also symbols of Astrakhan (more universally than Atlantic and Short-nosed sturgeon are symbols of the Hudson River). The private sturgeon breeding plant we visited raised several species of sturgeon native to the Volga and other parts of Russia. Apparently a major hydroelectric operation on the Volga has curtailed sturgeon catches. These fascinating creatures are on the endangered species list in the U.S. and in “the red book” in Russia. They are sensitive to PCBs and other environmental disturbances, so they can serve as important symbols of conservation as well as culture.

The Lukoil plant showed us how important the gas and oil businesses are in the Caspian Region (Astrakhan is home to many Gazprom offices as well). So far Russian platforms haven’t suffered a disaster such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but there do seem to be some environmental consequences of drilling and shipping oil. That being said, Lukoil and others fund the protection of wildlife preserves and pay for some environmental education programs.

About the people of Astrakhan

An exchange of ideas comes with an exchange of understanding and a magnification of empathy and friendship. This was our experience visiting our friends from the Astrakhan State University Eco Squad. I now better understand the Volga watershed, its issues, and its protectors, as well as a bit about the people of an important lesser-known region, and I think the people understand us a little bit more as well.

Mischa, Denis, and Nastya and their colleagues were some of the kindest people we have ever met. They gave so much of their time and energy to provide us a full and enjoyable experience, and were deeply curious about us and our work. The students we worked with on the clean up were inspiringly positive and hard-working (and sang some great Russian folk songs and pop songs!). Everywhere we went we were treated to delicious hand-cooked meals like Ookha (fish stew), teas, and sweets. We now consider these people and this place near and dear to our hearts. We will never forget all that we learned during our time with our Russian friends and it has enriched our lives and work forever.

Take-Homes and Next-Steps.

The Bard College students and student members of the ASU Eco-Squad will continue to collaborate on the Toolkit for Youth Engagement in Waterway Protection through Skype Sessions and emails. Tom and Siira will continue to guide the students creating the toolkit and planning workshops for Bard College faculty, staff, and students and members of the Saw Kill Watershed Community. We have so many ideas from our trip that we’d like to share. We will also be reaching out to our colleagues at ASU to discuss future collaborations like collaborative research and publications in journals. We’re all hopeful for future grant-funded international exchanges—but we’ll work on the projects at hand first! We have planted the seeds of friendship and collaboration through this project, and we will cultivate these as if they were a lotus or a sturgeon, and reap many benefits now and in the future.

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A Successful Streamwalk

Last Friday we had a great first streamwalk! Streamwalks are a fun method of visually assessing the waterway on foot, and gathering observational data. This citizen science outing drew a variety of community members and Bard College students. We were able to get up close to the Saw Kill, and generate lots of questions and ideas together as a group.

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Finding the mouth of the Saw Kill

 

We began our adventure where the Saw Kill empties out in to the Tivoli Bays. From there we discussed the different parameters we would be assessing during the walk. We were interested in looking at different physical characteristics of the stream and the surrounding area such as the channel and hydrology, riparian zones, bank erosion, turbidity, barriers (man made and natural) and the presence of fish and insect habitat, pools, riffles, and algae.

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Measuring the width and depth

At each stop we made along the river, we measured the channel and depth, and discussed each of the above parameters. Our discussions were diverse; prompting lively debates over what constituted a barrier in the river, lessons on effective riparian zones and recounting the history of this one mile stretch, from past channel diversions to the chocolate factory. A community conversation around the waterway was able to take place literally in it!

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Wading through the Saw Kill!

As we traversed the one mile stretch, we were able to walk on trails beside the water, directly in it (the lucky ones in waders faring much better), and eventually along 9G and through a corn field where we lost sight of the river. Overall we were thrilled we were able to stay so close or in the Saw Kill for the majority of the walk. It is a wonderfully accessible portion of the Saw Kill.

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Thanks to everyone who came out and volunteered!

We look forward to compiling the data we collected and sharing it with the larger community!

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