by Bill Deutsch
We water monitors often think of AWW success in terms of sites monitored, water data collected and positive actions taken with that information. The “crème de la crème” might be an improvement in water quality or policy, and we’ve seen some good examples of that over the years (see our Success Story blogs on this website). But what about more subtle, even hidden, benefits of our program and work?
Last week, I was invited to meet with other Auburn University faculty and students with the Consul General of Mexico who was visiting our campus. I had previously met with Consul Generals from countries where Global Water Watch is active, and always like an opportunity to discuss our community-based watershed projects and see if some kind of host-country support is possible. With more than eight years of GWW work with great Mexican colleagues in the State of Veracruz (who have in turn spread GWW to 15 other states in Mexico!), I figured we had a lot to share to impress our distinguished guest. Perhaps we’d even inspire him to help us import water monitoring supplies by cutting through Mexican red tape, or get him to “make some calls” to various officials to smooth our path for expansion into new communities and schools in Mexico.
Well, none of that happened. The meeting got filled up with listening to the Consul General talk about the work that his staff is doing from their Atlanta office with education, health and other social services for Mexicans in the Southeast U.S. We each only had time to briefly introduce ourselves and say a bit about our work in Mexico, and most attendees talked about their Spanish language studies there.
Leaving somewhat disappointed for what seemed to be an unproductive (but informative) meeting, I was stopped at the door by a student who was doing graduate studies in Spanish at AU, and was previously speaking fluently with the Consul General in Spanish. He asked if I was with AWW, and then proceeded to tell me how he fondly remembered being a part of AWW water monitoring with his teacher while in grade school in Phenix City. That brought me back to the early work we did there with Extension Agents, teachers and others and how AWW’s work in the Chattahoochee River Watershed has grown over the years and is now a part of the implementation of a Watershed Management Plan for Mill Creek in Phenix City…a Plan that now includes water education for hundreds of kids.
It also reminded me that from the 1,700 free workshops that AWW has conducted over the last 22 years, only about one person in three goes on to monitor water! The other three-quarters are like the graduate student in Spanish…more knowledgeable of watersheds and water issues, more able to intelligently think and discuss and vote about these issues, and more appreciative for the work that AWW water monitors are doing. There are about 6,100 citizens who have been certified for water monitoring in AWW workshops. About 2,000 of them have sampled their streams and lakes and collectively have created a large and increasingly important record of water quality conditions and trends. But, that day leaving the Consul General, I had yet another glimpse at the “hidden benefits” of AWW for the other 4,000 people (and the hundreds of people they inform about water and us in AWW), and can only imagine the positive transformations that those benefits have had.