By Krista Pfunder
Calvert County is launching a program to teach community leaders to reduce pollution in waterways—and bring others along for the ride.
The Calvert County Watershed Stewards Academy holds its first class Oct. 6 and seeks to reduce polluted stormwater runoff and improve local water quality.
The Watersheds Stewards program, which will be run by the University of Maryland Extension in partnership with county agencies, is based on the model already in place in Anne Arundel and other Maryland counties.
“Anne Arundel County’s Academy was the first one in the state,” says Suzanne Etgen, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy. “We formed a partnership with the University of Maryland and created the curriculum together.”
Nicole Basenback, watershed restoration educator with the University of Maryland Extension was trained at the Anne Arundel academy and now serves as coordinator for the new Calvert program.
“There are a lot of waterfront properties in Calvert County,” Basenback says. “And there are many folks who are interested in preserving the natural resources that they enjoy who also may have experienced flooding or erosion issues on their property due to stormwater. Calvert County community partners have requested a local WSA program for several years now.”
A southern Maryland regional watershed restoration specialist worked with Extension administrators and Calvert County to secure funding for the WSA program. Over the course of 16 weeks, stewards in training will participate in classroom and hands-on fieldwork, as well as a class project and an individual project in their own community. An enrollment fee of $100 covers the cost of materials used in the course. Scholarships are available.
“Activities include a soil percolation test, designing a conservation landscape, conducting a desktop site analysis and identifying stormwater concerns,” Basenback says.
After program graduates earn the designation of Master Watershed Steward, they will work in their communities to identify sources of pollution, find restoration opportunities and create small-scale stormwater management practices like installing rain barrels or building rain gardens.
A 2018 graduate of the Anne Arundel County WSA is already making a difference in her community.
“I have done four projects in my neighborhood, including two erosion control gardens in areas that were once bare soil and ran directly to storm drains to the South River after every rain event,” says Leila MacCarthy, a member of the Anne Arundel Academy board. “I have created a large pollinator garden to attract butterflies and bees, and am working on invasive species removal including bamboo and English ivy.”
In her neighborhood of 545 homes and several sub-communities, MacCarthy serves on the landscape committee and keeps neighbors informed about efforts that they can undertake to keep the watershed healthy.
“We produce a newsletter monthly discussing these issues and educating our community on stormwater and pollution issues,” MacCarthy says. “We have a website where we post information and last year we would host Happy Hours with expert guest speakers to talk about managing storm water on homeowner property.”
MacCarthy is just the kind of volunteer the program hopes to attract.
“WSA is about two things: action and community engagement. So the perfect candidates are people who want to engage their communities in actions that reduce pollution,” Anne Arundel County’s Etgen says. “Stewards do not need to be formal community leaders; they can simply be that trusted neighbor people look to, someone who enjoys interacting with their neighbors and wants to help clean local waterways. Stewards come from many types of communities including neighborhoods, schools, congregations and businesses.”
To learn more: https://go.umd.edu/CalvertWSA or contact Basenback at 410-535-3662 or [email protected]