One of the most common misconceptions that we, the AWW staff, frequently encounter in our travels throughout the state is “the state is looking after my creek/river/lake/bay/bayou, right?” Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the answer is “sort of”. With more than 77,000 miles of streams/rivers and over half a million acres of pond/lakes/reservoirs in the state, even a well-funded state agency would be hard-pressed to monitor Alabama’s waters, let alone a state agency that’s been cut to the bone, as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has been.
Enter Alabama Water Watch. As the AWW monitors, trainers and friends from eight of the state’s ten major basins learned at AWW’s Annual Gathering on Saturday, June 13th, the collective efforts of hundreds of citizen volunteer monitors are taking up the slack.
Here are some examples:
- 80,500 cumulative water quality records (water chemistry, bacteriological, and stream biomonitoring records) taken and entered into AWW’s online database;
- 2,300 sites monitored, many on streams not monitored by other state agencies;
- E. coli monitoring and postings from some of Alabama’s most treasured and most utilized waterbodies (e.g., the Cahaba River, Lake Martin, Wolf Bay, the Choctawhatchee River, etc.);
- volunteer bacteriological monitoring of public-use waters that has now surpassed the number of monitoring sites done by the state (based on postings at theswimguide.org: volunteer-monitored sites, all freshwater, = 38*; state-monitored sites, all marine, = 25); and,
- more than 1,000 youth inspired by the AWW story in the past year, along with scores of adults!
How does AWW achieve these things? The Number 1 ingredient: scores of concerned Alabamians who care about their water and watersheds, and who are willing to get involved to preserve and protect them. Ingredient Number 2: a dedicated, experienced, stable staff that is committed to the waters and the volunteer water monitors and trainers throughout the state. Ingredient Number 3: a strong commitment from both the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station to support the AWW Program and AWW citizen monitors and trainers in their watershed stewardship efforts. Both Dr. Lemme, ACES Director, and Dr. Brown ACES Associate Director, voiced this support, praising AWW as a highly effective program that positively impacts the lives of Alabamians.
This point was reinforced by presentations of three different stories from monitors and a resource manager representing the three pillars of AWW’s data-to-action strategy, 1) water policy, 2) waterbody restoration & protection, and in 3) environmental education.
Water Policy: All were inspired by Dan Ballard, City of Auburn Water Resources Watershed Division Manager, as he elaborated on the strong partnership that has developed between the City and local citizen monitors in Save Our Saugahatchee and Friends of Chewacla Creek & Uphapee Watershed, and the crucial role that AWW volunteer monitors play in local water resources management through their extensive water monitoring and watershed stewardship activities.
Waterbody Restoration & Protection: Eric Reutebuch, AWW Director, followed, sitting in for Myra Crawford, Cahaba Riverkeeper, and Dave Butler, owner and operator of Canoe the Cahaba, describing the expanding role of AWW volunteer monitoring in the Cahaba River Basin in response to repeated inquiries from the public: “is it safe to swim in the river?” To address this need, they have established a series of monitoring sites in the Cahaba Watershed, monitor regularly for E. coli, and post their results on The Swim Guide to share the information with all. Contaminated stream reaches have already been identified and identification of bacterial sources is ongoing. Check out Alabama’s ABC 33/40 News story featuring Myra and their water monitoring efforts:
Environmental Education: The third presentation was an inspiring story from Jade Patolo and Steven Tsikalas, instructors at Jacksonville State University. They described how incorporating AWW water quality monitoring into their classes has provided relevant and timely environmental data, generated by the students themselves, to link to geographic features and analyses. As a result, student interest and enrollment in geographic studies at JSU has dramatically increased! Their efforts have also led to identification of and placement of student interns in various organizations committed to the preservation of water resources.
So, who’s watching our state’s waters – along with dedicated state, federal, county and municipal personnel, hundreds of citizen volunteers giving daily of their time, talent and treasure to ensure that Alabama’s aquatic treasures that we all enjoy today will be there for ages to come!