ONEONTA, NY — The lovable, iconic dog, Snoopy, will forever be remembered for saying, “Keep looking up, that’s the secret to life.” For New York farmers and communities along the creeks, rivers and tributaries that feed the mighty Susquehanna River Basin and finally the Chesapeake Bay, the water quality is also getting a thumb’s up.
The Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum held at SUNY Oneonta in November by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed partners shared success stories, barriers and ongoing opportunities with 80 professionals from agriculture, conservation organizations, land trusts, advocacy groups and local schools. The Alliance’s Program Director for Maryland and the District of Columbia, Lou Etgen said, “Together we get the job done. This forum is a chance to say, thank you, and learn what others are doing to improve water quality in the headwaters. It’s also about networking and getting energized to do more.”
Mike Lovegreen, Upper Susquehanna Coalition’s Stream Team Leader and retired Bradford County Conservation District Manager gave a “State of the Upper Watershed” report which showed water quality improvements for nutrients and sediment at Towanda, PA’s gauging station. “Its good news, the ‘Sus’ is improving,” said Lovegreen.
This USGS station is significant because the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) uses it to track flow and nutrient level coming from the Susquehanna Headwaters. The measurements help to calibrate the CBP “Bay Model” and hold New York accountable for the TMDL (Total Daily Maximum Load) “pollution diet” placed on the watershed by President Obama in 2010. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Lovegreen. “We are still dealing with weather extremes, the tight agricultural economy, invasive plants and insects, storm-water runoff, stream corridor degradation, loss of wetlands and funding constraints that bring challenges to implementing water quality initiatives.”
Wendy Walsh, Watershed Coordinator for the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Tioga County SWCD District Manager showcased what the USC family of 19 conservation districts do and how they take their team approach and funding resources to put projects on the ground that improve streams, wetlands and agriculture. Holding up the massive, mandated, Phase 2 Watershed Implementation Plan, Walsh said she has seen the positive changes. “We partner human and financial capital together to get work done. The group has an elastic quality that fills gaps and we keep asking, what can we do to help?
A local project success story panel followed with Ed Lentz from the Butternut Valley Alliance describing their study of the Butternut Creek, which runs about 35 miles from Basswood Pond in the town of Burlington to the Unadilla River near Mt. Upton. The group identified and documented watershed features such as erosion, flooding hazards, channel blockage, and wetlands to facilitate future water quality projects.
Teachers, Richard Townsend and Dave Teitelbaum, representing Sidney High School, showed professionals the Sidney High School Flood Monitoring Program where students have installed eight remote rainfall/weather/stream gauge stations in the upper Susquehanna River basin that transmit live data for mitigating flood damage. Students then interpret this data, and using mathematical and computer models, issue local weather and flood potential forecasts.
Jordan Clements, District Manager for the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District shared how their strategic position allows them to partner with farmers and local agencies to install projects and facilitate funding opportunities. He gave examples of grazing, barnyard runoff control and manure storage systems, stream projects, buffer work, hydro-seeding and doing educational programs such as Emergency Stream Intervention (ESI) trainings.
Otsego Land Trust’s Development and Finance Manager, Sara Scheeren explained her motto of “Getting people to connect with the land and water” and how they approach conservation easements, partner to get projects on the ground, teach young people and provide public access to their preserved areas.
The forum included lively group discussions on current challenges facing the watershed, a restoration funding primer, advocacy opportunities and a field trip to Silver Spoon Dairy Farm in Garrattsville to view water quality projects.
“I like the unique and effective approaches to meeting your water quality goals in New York, said Rich Batiuk, Associate Director for Science, Analysis and Implementation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.