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Extension Spotlight: Master Watershed Stewards Help Meet York County’s Clean Water Goals

Posted: November 17, 2017

Penn State Extension’s Master Watershed Stewards Program came to York County in 2016 and is educating, training and activating citizens to help meet the county’s clean water goals.
York Master Watershed Stewards

York Master Watershed Stewards

With approximately 20,000 of our 80,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams impaired—mostly from nonpoint source pollution runoff—outreach and education on the local level is becoming the key to watershed conservation. The Master Watershed Stewards program is doing just that; training and empowering local volunteers that can organize, network, and educate others in their community to meet clean water goals.

Master Watershed Stewards began as a pilot in the Lehigh Valley in 2014 and quickly spread to other mainly southeastern Pennsylvania counties. The first and only program in the Chesapeake Bay watershed was launched in York County. Led by Master Watershed Steward Program Coordinator Jodi Sulpizio, the York County program graduated its first class of Master Watershed Stewards in 2016. Since then, graduates from this diverse group have been engaging their communities in conservation projects, research efforts, and education activities.

“Our stewards come from  all walks of life,” explained Sulpizio. “They are teachers, college students, engineers, and foresters, brought together by a common desire to learn more and give back.”

The diversity of the York County class is a testament to how this program provides a venue for a variety of community members to actively participate in conservation. Sulpizio also found that there is increasing interest among younger community members; members of an ever-grower new generation of conservationists.

“We found that most people have a strong interest in the environment but never really knew how to plug in,” she said. “But given the training, they now have the knowledge and confidence to get involved in conservation activities.”

The program includes 40 hours of classroom training, a written exam, and 50 hours of community service. Students receive structured training in groundwater, stream ecology, watersheds, invasive plants, and storm water management. The program partners with conservation district staff, state level agencies such as the DEP and DCNR, as well as local conservation districts. These partnerships are a vital aspect of the program as the students will engage with these organizations upon becoming Master Watershed Stewards.

The continued success of this program is not without challenges. Grant-to-grant funding keeps it going, but a more solid financial platform will allow this program to grow and be even more valuable to Pennsylvania’s local communities. State agencies such as the DEP and DCNR and programs including Penn State Extension do not have the capacity to reach as deeply local as a program like Master Watersheds Stewards. Its continued support is vital to the overall mission of watershed conservation and environmental education.

Currently, 13 counties across Pennsylvania are host to the Master Watershed Stewards Program. With sustained funding and participation, this highly effective program will continue to magnify the awareness of conservation and environmental stewardship. For information on the York County Master Watershed Steward Program, please contact Jodi Sulpizio at , or state coordinator Erin Frederick at .

By Bill Ryan, AEC Intern