Monday, January 30, 2023

Master Watershed Steward Program Statewide Accomplishments In 2022

Since its inception in Lehigh County in 2013, the Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward (MWS) Program has expanded to 31 counties in Pennsylvania. 

This remarkable growth is a testament to niches being filled across the state. 

Watershed associations are reaching out for volunteer support to fill their boards and execute projects. 

Municipalities are partnering with MWS volunteers to educate their MS4 communities about stormwater. 

Homeowners associations are seeking resources for promoting green infrastructure to their property owners. 

Schools are inviting guest educators to help with student field experiences and campus planting projects. 

Conservation partners are seeking volunteers to help plan, install, and maintain watershed improvement projects, harvest and install live stakes, and monitor water quality. 

Community organizations are reaching out for presentations about native plants, rain barrels, watersheds, and invasive species.      

Each year, Master Watershed Steward Program data from all county programs are aggregated into an Annual Report, which highlights program statistics and the economic value of the program activities provided by volunteers. 

Readers will also find a success story from each county program and a list of vital partners. 

While some readers may underline the economic value, others may appreciate the number of trees planted, or enjoy the narratives about specific projects. 

Whatever your lens, the impact is significant, and ideally, the MWS program will continue to grow, to attract and retain volunteers, and engage partners and communities in cleaning up streams, educating residents, increasing native habitat, and transforming landscapes for the benefit of humans and wildlife.

Annual Report Highlights

In 2022, 860 dedicated Master Watershed Steward volunteers in 31 counties reported 33,648 volunteer hours, which is valued at $1,007,764. 

This brings the total accumulated volunteer hours to 113,476, with a value of approximately $3.8 million since the program began in 2013.

In their collective efforts with local conservation organizations this past year, the Master Watershed Stewards--

-- Educated 61,710 adults and children about water stewardship

--Assisted 87 municipalities with their required stormwater education and outreach

-- Gave 71 presentations to local community organizations and organized 102 workshops

-- Set up educational displays and engaged with residents at 148 community events

-- Taught students about the environment in 112 schools

-- Planted 21,866 trees, and 2,493 herbaceous perennials

-- Distributed 235 rain barrels

-- Wrote 32 educational articles            

-- Removed 1,647 bags of trash

-- Conducted water quality monitoring on 140 sites along 112 streams and erosion monitoring on 40 sites

-- Installed 8 rain gardens; maintained 35 rain gardens

-- Restored 18 acres of habitat and 2.4 miles of stream bank

Special Statewide Initiatives in 2022

In 2021, in collaboration with the Nurture Nature Center, Master Watershed Stewards launched the statewide Watershed-Friendly Property Certification Program to educate property-owners about best practices that can be installed at home to improve local stormwater quality before it reaches waterways. 

Once these practices are implemented, residents apply to certify their property as Watershed-Friendly. 

In 2022, 90 properties were certified bringing the total to 371 properties in 44 counties. 

Funding was also received by the Nurture Nature Center in partnership with the MWS Program to adapt the application for larger institutional and urban properties.

Additionally, the Master Watershed Steward Program received a $10,000 Healing the Planet Grant from Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, with augmented funding from The Giant Corporation. 

The funds provided for the installation of 30 demonstration downspout planters in 11 counties at locations such as municipal offices, park pavilions, conservation district offices, and schools. 

Downspout planters are decorative landscape planters specifically designed to absorb stormwater flowing off the roof and filter it before it enters stormwater conveyance systems. Filled with native perennials, the planters provide habitat for wildlife and beautification for the property owner.

In partnership with the Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley, the MWS Program also received funding from the Pennsylvania American Water Environmental Grant Program to:

-- Install live-stake nurseries in York, Adams, and Lackawanna counties

-- Install a 1,000 sq. ft. pollinator/demonstration garden in Northampton County

-- Install a 2-acre native meadow with a journaling bench and signage in Chester County

-- Participate in the Swatara River Sojourn and stream clean-up in Dauphin County

Enlarging the Footprint Geographically and Virtually

In the 2022 program year, the Master Watershed Steward Program launched in Susquehanna County, and Franklin and Adams counties were added to the existing Cumberland County program. 

In 2023, 11 more counties will be added –Wyoming, Bradford, Sullivan, Tioga, Lycoming, Clinton, Centre, Clearfield, Clarion, Forest, and Jefferson – substantially expanding opportunities for advancing watershed protection in the state.  

To enhance program recruitment and tell the MWS volunteer story, Penn State Extension’s marketing team developed and released a promotional video, which is posted on the Master Watershed Steward About the Program webpage, as well as on YouTube.  

The Intrinsic Value of Volunteering

The Master Watershed Steward Program is celebrating its 10th year in 2023. 

As we applaud the successes highlighted in the 2022 Annual Report and recognize the impact of the work with our valued partners, we also celebrate the collaborations and relationships developed among the MWS volunteers, both locally and statewide. 

People from all walks of life become friends or discover they are neighbors. 

Whether or not their (former or current) work life relates to water quality or the environment, MWS volunteers intersect in this program with shared enthusiasm about learning about the natural world and committing their time and talents to giving back to their communities. 

Additionally, at the annual statewide meeting in January, stewards present projects to their peers in other counties, and are provided the opportunity to ask questions, expand networks, and develop ideas for innovative projects and partnerships across Pennsylvania. 

The Master Watershed Steward Program is enriching for both individuals and communities, allowing for meaningful change to take place both within, and out in the world.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in learning more, visit the Master Watershed Steward Program website to find links to county programs and complete an application.  

Applications are being accepted in many counties for spring 2023 training!

Upcoming Extension Events:

-- February 8: Webinar: Maintaining Streamside Plantings - Ensuring Successful Buffers. 1:00 to 3:30 p.m.

-- February 25: Webinar: Fall In Love With Your Garden Again With Nationally Recognized Gardening Experts, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  

-- February 27: Webinar: Considerations Of Grass Riparian Buffer Use On Farms. Noon to 1:00 p.m.

-- Penn State Extension To Offer 6-Part Webinar Series In March On Homesteading - Living On A Few Acres

-- Penn State Extension: Forest Landowners Conference Slated For State College March 24-25

Related Articles:

-- Penn State Extension: Climate Risk And Private Water Wells  [PaEN]

-- Penn State: Spotted Lanternfly Experts Share What Research Has Uncovered About The Pest

-- Penn State: Deer Browsing Just One Of Many Factors Shaping North American Forests 

-- Protecting Clean Water Together: Where Does Your Water Come From? -- By Carol Hillestad for Brodhead Watershed Association, Monroe County  [PaEN]

[Posted: January 30, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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