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Recently, the Trump administration rescinded the Stream Protection Rule, which protected water quality at mountaintop removal mining sites.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

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Check out our data on Riverkeeper’s site

Every month, SKWC citizen scientists go out and collect samples from 14 different locations along the Saw Kill. They record observations and data such as temperature and salinity. The samples are then taken to the Bard Water Lab, where they are processed for parameters such as sewage indicating bacteria, nutrients, and turbidity.

But what happens to that data? We present lots of our findings at our monthly community meetings. And now, thanks to Riverkeeper, you can view our findings on Enterococcus counts online. Their interactive map shows our sampling locations, and data alongside environmental conditions such as rain events.

saw kill riverkeeper map

Entero what? Enterococcus is a bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other warm blooded animals. It’s called “fecal indicating” because of its presence in human sewage. Therefore, an abundance of enterococcus in the water can correlate with sewage contamination. The EPA uses enterococcus counts to regulate water safety. Riverkeeper shows these counts alongside rainfall data as rain events often trigger fecal contamination. Looking at the two side by side helps us understand whether enterococcus levels are weather related or due to other factors.

Take a look around the site! They have lots of interesting information on water quality, as well as data on surrounding watersheds. The map reminds us of our watershed’s connection to surrounding watersheds and communities. It’s exciting to see our separate data collections coming together to create a larger, more complex picture.

 

 

Electrofishing below the Annandale Dam

On Tuesday, two Saw Kill interns and a Bard student Office of Sustainability intern went electrofishing with the DEC. We donned our waders, with nets in hand, to look at what kind of fish diversity exists below the Annandale Dam.saw kill electrofish 1

The way electrofishing works is by a handheld probe in the water that delivers a small electrical current. This shocks the fish for about 5 seconds, allowing enough time for a net to scoop them up in to a bucket. The DEC is interested in looking at what kind of biodiversity exists in the Saw Kill, but were also particularly interested in the eel population. The dams and waterfalls along the Saw Kill make eel migration tough, but they still manage to make it, proved by the large eel we found close to the dam.

 

Along with the american eel, we found a mixture of native and non native fish such as a brown trout, white sucker, largemouth bass, cutlips, bluegill, rock bass, spiny cheak crawfish,redfin pickerals, black nosed dace, yellow bullhead, and tessellated darters. I had never seen most of the above mentioned fish before, and it was exciting to learn about them and see how diverse the Saw Kill is. Thanks to the DEC for including us in  a great afternoon!

 

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.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 1

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.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 2

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.

saw kill watershed community july monthly meeting 3

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.

Summertime along the Saw Kill

Our water monitoring program is year round, and in full swing this summer. If you haven’t gotten the chance to get up close to the Saw Kill with fellow community volunteers to collect samples and record observations, this summer is a great chance!

summer saw kill watershed community sampling

We are lucky our watershed is located in the beautiful Hudson Valley. Volunteer snapshots show off what a beautiful waterway we have, and why we’re so determined to protect it. Get out in the sunshine and in to your water way by becoming a volunteer in the water monitoring program. Our next sampling day is Friday, August 11th and we would love to see you there!

summer saw kill watershed community sampling 3

For more information and questions, contact Tierney (SKWC intern) at tw4287@bard.edu.

summer saw kill watershed community sampling 2

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!

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/