Master Watershed Steward Program participants Julie Thomas, Erin Uber and Linda Frederick plant a tree at a dam removal/stream restoration project. Photo by Erin Frederick
The program was a recipient of a Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence, presented annually by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The recognition is the highest statewide honor bestowed upon businesses and organizations for environmental performance and innovation in cleaning up watersheds, saving energy, eliminating pollution, reducing waste and other initiatives.
"On behalf of our college, I applaud the Master Watershed Steward Program and thank these volunteers for the countless hours they devote to conserving and improving our water and natural resources," said Rick Roush, dean of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Today's society and future generations will reap the benefit of their selfless service. This honor is well deserved."
This year's ceremony took place April 24 in Harrisburg and featured keynote speaker Patrick McDonnell, acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, with remarks from Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Penn State Extension's Master Watershed Steward Program was a recipient of a Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence. Shown at the ceremony, from left, are Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection; Rebecca Kennedy, Master Watershed Steward Program; Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and Erin Frederick, coordinator, Master Watershed Steward Program. Photo by: Erin Frederick
Program Coordinator Erin Frederick, horticulture and natural resources educator with Penn State Extension, explained that the program strengthens local capacity for management and protection of watersheds, streams and rivers by training interested individuals in watershed management.
In return for the training, participants dedicate volunteer time to educate the community about watershed stewardship based on university research and recommendations.
"Nonpoint source pollution remains the biggest challenge facing surface-water quality in Pennsylvania," she said. "From stormwater runoff, to acid mine drainage, to nutrients from farms, nonpoint source pollution runs off hundreds of thousands of individual sites. No number of government regulators and environmental professionals could possibly accomplish all the one-on-one outreach, engagement and action needed to make change to so many sites, over so great an area."
Fortunately, Master Watershed Steward volunteers are there to help to bridge the gap in time and labor. In 2017 alone, there were 194 Master Watershed Stewards in 12 counties in Pennsylvania. These volunteers contributed 7,582 volunteer hours, valued at $177,417. In that time, they educated more than 200,000 people about environmental stewardship through teaching in 111 schools and 115 community events.
In addition, the volunteers monitored 15 streams, constructed five demonstration rain gardens, planted 915 trees and built 118 rain barrels. Thirty-four of the volunteers joined local community watershed associations and became further engaged in local conservation projects. Frederick anticipates that these environmental impacts will magnify as more volunteers join the program.
"At Penn State Extension, we are very proud to have been selected for this award," she said. "But we are even prouder of the work accomplished by our devoted and enthusiastic volunteers. We thank them for building a better tomorrow for all of us."
Frederick said a key strength of the program is collaboration with local and state organizations, agencies and government, including DEP, Trout Unlimited, DCNR, Stroud Water Research Center, county conservation districts, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, and the Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley.
Learn more about the Master Watershed Steward program.