Alabama Water Watch held its 18th Annual Meeting and Picnic at Comer Hall on the Auburn University campus in June. The event was a success by several measures. More than 80 people from all over the state attended. Nearly all of the state’s river basins were represented. Attendees included AWW volunteer monitors and representatives from elementary/secondary education, higher education, state government nongovernmental organizations and business.
The meeting began with a pre-meeting computer-lab workshop on AWW web basics and advanced website tools. Participants learned how to access the more than 65, 000 online AWW water quality data records, how to graph water chemistry and bacteria (E. coli) data, and how to evaluate long-term data trends to see if their water quality is getting better or getting worse.
After the workshop, the meeting officially began. Bill Deutsch, the AWW Program Director, welcomed everyone to a day of looking back and celebrating 19 years of accomplishments, and looking forward to a revitalized and growing Program. He introduced the first speaker, Mike Kensler, President of the Alabama Water Watch Association and Director of the AU Office of Sustainability.
Bill Deutsch, AWW Director, welcomes all to the meeting
(click Here for more pictures)
Role of AWWA in AWW’s Data-to-Action Plan
Mike spoke about the role of the Association, the nonprofit arm of AWW, in sustaining and revitalizing AWW. He emphasized that the success of AWW lay in the strength of its three parts: the AU-based AWW Program, all of the AWW groups and monitors throughout the state, and the nonprofit AWW Association. The Association provides support to the statewide AWW Program in the form of financial support, leadership development, monitor group development communications and outreach. He said that people who become members of the Alabama Water Watch Association can provide support to the AWW Program in several different ways, including financial donations, informal advertising and getting the word out about what AWW is and does, and doing presentations to various organizations and groups on AWW’s behalf.
Mike continued by saying that the AWW Story is one of significant accomplishments, and that the stats (number of sites monitored, number of water quality data records, number of trained and certified monitors) is only part of that story. He emphasized that the AWW Program is aspirational – looking toward a brighter future, and grounded on place-based citizen engagement. AWW empowers and facilitates citizens in taking care of the places that they know and love. He contended that this is a powerful idea, and that many people around the state are not clear on what AWW is and does.
Mike said that AWW has followed a well-documented pattern of organizational growth, characterized by sharp upward growth in its early years, then reaching a plateau. This plateau is usually followed by a slow downward trend if the organization is content in maintaining the status quo. Conversely, if the organization re-connects with its core mission and values, it can stimulate a second growth spurt. To this end, the Association developed a Strategic Plan, with the following five goals:
- Increase public awareness and appreciation of Alabama Water Watch
- Increase local AWW group effectiveness and impacts
- Secure stronger, more stable support for AWW from Auburn University
- Increase fund raising
- Strengthen the AWW Association via strengthening membership and developing a stronger, more committed AWW Association Board of Directors.
Mike stated that water data is the backbone of everything that AWW does – it provides a scientific basis and rigor to citizen activism, which is a powerful force for conservation and positive change. But, he added, data are just numbers unless the numbers are properly interpreted to yield information, understanding and knowledge. Through the sharing and application of new knowledge comes positive action. It is this ‘Data-to-Action’ strategy that is key to a sustainable future for AWW.
Mike emphasized that people can participate and support AWW in several different ways, and water monitoring is just one of them. Other valuable and essential contributions can be made through public outreach and civic engagement. At a recent AWW Trainer-Refresher Workshop, Mike posed the following five thought-provoking questions:
- Why do we monitor water?
- What do we hope to achieve through our water monitoring?
- What does AWW train monitors to do?
- What should ‘perfectly-trained’ monitors learn to do?
- What additional training would be helpful to move from Water Data to Action?
Here are the responses:
1. We monitor:
- Because we care
- To determine the status and trends in water quality of a waterbody
- To verify if water quality is adequate to support aquatic life
- To protect and preserve waterbodies for the next generation
- To address a local environmental impact
- To support enforcement of environmental regulations
- For peace of mind.
2. We hope to achieve:
- Understanding of current water quality conditions
- Protection and improvement in water quality
- Improvements in environmental regulations and water management policies
- Development of a sense of environmental stewardship that fosters positive changes in human behavior
- Clear demonstration that AWW is a valid and cost-effective means to achieve watershed stewardship.
3. AWW trains monitors to:
- Accurately test and record water data
- Be eyes and ears in the field
- Understand how the state actually works, and how it should ideally work to protect water quality
- Appreciate their watershed and how it influences their local water quality
‘4. Perfectly-trained’ monitors should learn to:
- Communicate effectively what AWW and the AWW Association are all about, and why they matter
- Recruit others to get involved in AWW
- Interpret their water data
- Get others to respect and follow AWW monitoring protocols so that the citizen volunteer monitor data maintain their credibility
- Put AWW water data to use to generate positive action.
5. Training in the following areas would be helpful; to move from Water Data to Action:
- Watershed management principals
- How changes in land use affect water quality/quantity
- How to effectively communicate
- How monitor groups can effectively connect with their mission, goals and values
- How to leverage AWW water data
- How to gain access to other groups and audiences
- How to spot erosion and sediment control violations
- Environmental ethics training
- How to network and build networks
- How to organize a stream/lake cleanup
- How to do a press release
Mike said that the Association has developed a ‘Road Show’ presentation to convey why the condition of Alabama’s waters matters, what AWW is doing to protect and preserve them, and what YOU can do to help. He said that the Association would be happy to give this presentation to any group that is interested in learning more about AWW and the Association, and that there are plans to develop a ‘Speakers Bureau’ to give the presentation all over the state.
Mike closed by stating that AWW has been serving the public’s interest throughout the state for the past 19 years – its been about empowering people and their communities to create a more sustainable future. And the challenge for all of us is to ensure that AWW continues to grow and thrive by increasing appreciation and awareness of what AWW is and what it does, and by building a strong, diverse financial base to support AWW now and in the future.
Data to Action – a new AWW Workshop
Eric Reutebuch, longtime AWW staffer, continued on the Data-to-Action theme with a presentation on the development of a brand new AWW workshop devoted to assisting AWW individual monitors and groups in getting positive action out of their water data. This would not only generate positive change for local waterbodies, but be very motivational to AWW monitors to see that their data is valuable.
Eric said that AWW focuses a lot of effort on training and certifying citizen monitors to collect science-based, credible water data. He stated that there are currently over 65,000 data records from all over Alabama that volunteer monitors have inputted to the AWW online database. As a precursor to positive action, he said that citizen monitors need to be knowledgeable about water quality standards to gauge their water data and evaluate if their local water is polluted (oftentimes it is not obvious). He reminded the audience that a great source of info on state water quality standards is their trusty AWW Water Chemistry and Bacteriological Monitoring manuals.
Eric elaborated that a decade of traveling around the state conducting AWW Data Interpretation presentations, coupled with dozens of volunteer monitor success stories (available digitally at www.alabamawaterwatch.org ) forms a solid foundation for developing a new ‘Data-to-Action’ workshop. He added that AWW monitor success stories in environmental education, restoration and protection, and positively impacting local, state and interstate water policy are highlighted on the brand new AWW brochure and poster, available online or from the AWW Office upon request.
He then got into the nuts-and-bolts of how to get action out of YOUR water data, asking what you would do if you saw a fish kill, or an oil slick on the water, or smelled sewage in your creek. A good start is outlined in the new AWW Water Chemistry Monitoring manual. Page 23 of the new manual, titled Recommendations for Reporting Problems, outlines local and state offices and authorities to contact in the event of a problem. It also suggests procedures that a certified water monitor should do in the event of a water pollution problem (collect a water sample, collect and freeze dead fish, monitor the impacted water with your test kit).
In summary, content for the new workshop include:
- Looking at trends in your water data
- Relating them to water quality standards
- Identifying water quality problems
- Relating water quality problems to watershed land use
- Sourcing the problem – may require more sites and additional sampling
- Working toward a solution (start locally)
New Partnerships – Georgia Adopt-A-Stream
Two speakers from Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS), Tara Muenz and Allison Hughes, spoke of evolving new collaboration between their program and AWW. This collaboration was recently formalized through an official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between GA AAS and AWW, stating that each would accept the others training, certification and citizen water data. This is especially important and relevant in several of the river basins that are shared between the two states – specifically the Coosa, the Tallapoosa, and the Chattahoochee. Tara and Allison went on to describe both certified training (water chemistry, bacteriological and bioassessment) and non-certified training programs conducted by GA AAS (for more information, go to www.georgiaadoptastream.org). They expressed interest in strengthening the blossoming partnership with AWW through future creative and fun activities that cross state boundaries.
What’s New with AWW – Check out our new Website!
Jayme Oates, AWW Association executive director, gave an intro to the brand new AWW website, and some of its many features. Though the address is the same, www.alabamawaterwatch.org, the new site features a fresh new look, the new AWW logo, and many new features. New and enhanced features include:
- Contacts for AWW staff, AWW Association board members and AWW Trainers throughout Alabama
- A new ‘Team Room’ where AWW Trainers can access training resources
- An enhanced ‘Get Involved’ menu that describes the many different ways that citizens can get involved in watershed stewardship and help support Alabama Water Watch
- An enhanced ‘Event Calendar’ where you can get details on water monitor training workshops and water-related special events
- The newly-published AWW brochure and poster (available in digital form under the ‘Resources’ menu)
- A new Frequently Asked Questions feature (under the ‘Resources’ menu)
- A new online store where you can order AWW water monitoring supplies, the MacroMania bioassessment game and AWW T-shirts.
- A new AWW Facebook page (click the Facebook icon at the bottom of the AWW homepage).
Jayme encouraged everyone to go to the new AWW webpage and check it out!
20/20 Vision and Closing Remarks
Bill wrapped up the meeting by announcing that next year AWW will celebrate its 20th Anniversary by looking back at 20 years of Program growth and achievement and looking forward to the next 20 years of innovation in AWW Data-to-Action. He enumerated two focus areas in this 20/20 Vision:
- Celebration of AWW’s 20 years of achievement in statewide water monitoring and watershed stewardship, highlighted with a:
- New logo
- New website
- New brochure
- New monitoring manual
- Challenges in:
- Keeping the pipeline full by recruiting new water monitors as veteran monitors retire
- Making your monitoring relevant through embracing a Data-to-Action mentality
- Sustaining the AWW Program through strengthening its funding.
Bill shared that he’d recently received a letter with some unexpected news. In it, ADEM stated their inability to fund the AWW Program if proposed cuts in funding from EPA materialized. ADEM was appealing to EPA to reconsider the cuts, stating that AWW water data is vital in enabling ADEM to focus its water quality monitoring efforts. Bill said that many believe that the AWW Program is fully funded by Auburn University, which is NOT true. He clarified that AWW has received its base grant through ADEM’s 319 Program to the tune of $120,000-190,000 per year, and the current level is about $160,000 for the statewide AWW water monitoring program.
In the face of this news, Bill emphasized AWW’s response:
- Developing a stronger nonprofit Association and strengthened ties among the Association, the AWW Program and AWW monitoring groups throughout the state
- A more focused Data-to-Action approach in Restoration/Protection, Environmental Education, and Advocacy/Policy
- Fostering the formation of new AWW groups through more active and creative recruitment of new monitors and watershed stewards
- Developing and employing new tools and technologies to aid groups in Data-to-Action strategies.
Bill continued saying that AWW will be pursuing funding in new and creative ways in the near-future. He then asked Mike Mullen to come forward to make an announcement. Mike is a founding member of the AWW Association, one of the first AWW citizen trainers and the River Keeper for the Choctawhatchee River. Mike started by emphasizing that AWW data is important. In a recent effort working with ADEM, almost all of the Choctawhatchee River was upgraded to Swimming classification, and through the use of AWW water data (Mike’s data) the extent of the reclassification was expanded. He said that AWW was too good of a program to let die, and to that end, he and his wife Alice were donating $10, 000 to the AWW Association in the form of a challenge – challenging the Association to raise funding to match this amount to help in establishing stable, long-term support for Alabama Water Watch. He added that all AWW Association Board members had pledged at the $250/year level to AWW during the previous evening’s board meeting (at the Dragonfly Sponsorship level – for information on the various levels of sponsorship click the ‘Get Involved’ menu on the website).
Bill closed by thanking Mike and Alice for their generous support of AWW and with advice from Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life – Be a hero! He added ‘true heroism serves the common good, and is concerned about the next generation, not just oneself’ – words for all of us to aspire to!