Call for Master Watershed Steward Volunteers

Dec 31, 2013

Jim Wilson, Watershed Specialist at the Northampton County Conservation District is with us today to discuss Penn State Extension’s Master Watershed Steward Program.  Jim is a major project partner and closely involved in this new volunteer program.  They are currently looking for volunteers for their 2014 training class.

Jim, I understand this is a relatively new program offered by Extension.  Could you tell us a bit about it?

Yes, the Master Watershed Steward program was launched in the Lehigh Valley last year as a pilot for the state.  After considerable interest and enthusiasm in the program, Extension, along with myself at the Northampton County Conservation District , the Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley, , the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Water Resource Education Network, and other local project partners, will be offering the program again in Lehigh and Northampton counties this year.  The program was modeled after Penn State’s Master Gardener program with the intention of creating a group of volunteers with expertise in water resources.  We are also working to expand the program to other county extension offices in the state.

So what does a Master Watershed Steward do?

After a Master Watershed Steward completes the training program, they’ll be able to engage in a number of structured volunteer opportunities that are of interest to them. Example projects for Master Watershed Stewards include monitoring streams for bacteria, designing and installing demonstration rain gardens, carrying out stream restoration projects, as well as organizing educational workshops addressing topics such as water conservation, pollution prevention, and habitat restoration.

The health of our waterways is really in the hands of each citizen, so we believe that training these stewards to help educate the community on water issues can have a phenomenal impact on the health of our streams and rivers. 

And what are the requirements of the program?

Just like Master Gardeners, Master Watershed Stewards need to commit about 40 hours to training and 50 hours to volunteer service the first year.  In subsequent years they need a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of additional education to maintain their status. There is also a one-time fee to cover the cost of training materials. 

What’s the training program like?

The training classes are primarily held Wednesday evenings, with 3 hands-on Saturday field trips and a Friday evening amphibian survey.  The curriculum addresses topics such as stream ecology, groundwater, wetlands, green infrastructure, water quality, and native plants.  One of the field trips is a canoeing trip, where trainees will get to learn about the value of recreational resources and how to sample for aquatic insects, which indicate stream health. 

Once training starts, the class is required to work on group projects.  Group projects for this year include designing a demonstration rain garden at a municipal building,  creating an educational outreach program on naturalizing stormwater basins, a streamside planting project in collaboration with a local watershed association,  and a few of the trainees will also get to work with a Master Gardener on an aquaponics project.

Who can apply? 

We are looking for individuals that have an interest in the environment, a willingness to learn more and most importantly, a strong desire to make a difference in the community.   So whether you are a teacher, an accountant, a construction worker, a homemaker, or retired, you can become a Master Watershed Steward.

This year, Master Watershed Stewards will start training in March, with an informational meeting scheduled for January 15th.  The deadline to submit an application for the program is January 10th. If anyone would like more information or to apply to the program, they can call the Lehigh County Extension office at 610-391-9840.