Waterway Protection: A Toolkit for Youth Leaders Around the World


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/

Check out SKWC member’s recent article on water quality!

eli figure 4
Figure taken from Eli’s paper. This figure shows the microbial exchange among sediment, water and air.

Eli Dueker, SKWC member and Bard professor, recently published a paper on Challenges to Managing Microbial Fecal Pollution in CoastaEnvironments: Extra-Enteric Ecology and Microbial Exchange Among Water, Sediment, and Air.” . The paper adds complexity to traditional understanding of fecal indicator bacteria.   His research looks at fecal indicator bacteria, some of the same ones we monitor in our sampling program, and their interactions with both air and sediment as well as water. Improved water quality management would recognize the importance of these microbial exchanges, as well as microbial particle association and microbes length of environmental persistence.

We are excited to see such interesting research being done by a member of our community, as well as applicable to our ongoing efforts to improve our own sampling program.

Off to a busy new year!


Bard student, Isaac Yelchin, describes the “Big Night” to a full audience at our February community meeting.

After a month off, we are back and busy this February!

On February 10th we had our first water quality monitoring day of 2017! A HUGE thank you to all of the volunteers who battled the snowy weather to gather samples, and the volunteers who dedicated their Friday afternoon to process the samples. We are very excited to see how the winter month results compare to our other data.

On the 15th we had our first community meeting of the year at the Elmendorf Inn in Red Hook. There was a great turn out, and it was wonderful to see both old and new faces! We had a presentation on the assessment of doing a micro-hydro power project on the Saw Kill as we have historic dams on the Saw Kill that are currently unused for hydropower. This project is looking at the feasibility of micro hydro or dam removal–it does not take for granted that micro-hydro will be built, but does an honest assessment of what hydro power would look like at Bard’s dam.

Take a look at our meeting minutes (link) to see more information on Micro-hydro, and the current state of the assessment.

Our community conversation focused on how our local watershed can relate to our larger Hudson River watershed, as well as other communities both regionally and nationally. Looking forward to talking more about this in future conversations. Furthering community engagement and expanding our community was a large theme voiced in our community brainstorming, as well as thinking about how to improve our water monitoring program.

Coming up we have a film screening, Hudson River Environmental Futures: Film Screening & Discussion. A short film in the Hudson River: A River at Risk series by Jon Bowermaster. Riverkeeper staff and others will lead discussion at Bard College (Campus Center/Weis Cinema) on March 7, 2017 at 4:45 PM.  

Also in March, will be the Big Night! When the temperature gets just right, different amphibians come out of hibernation and head to their vernal pools. Volunteers are needed to help the salamanders cross the road safely and count. Contact us if you are interested in this important citizen science opportunity. Lastly, March will also bring our monthly monitoring program and next community meeting.

It has been a busy month already, and we look forward to only getting busier! Hope to see you out in the watershed!


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”.

Saw Kill 1881 Map.png
“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

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!!!!

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.

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.

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!

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!


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!


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.