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A Partnership Program: The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance Creekwatchers

Written on: March 13th, 2024 in OutreachWetland Research

By Caroline Kurtz and Beth Wasden, The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance

Let’s dive into a fantastic program out of the most biologically diverse watershed on Delmarva. But first, who are we! The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance (NWA) is a non-profit environmental organization that includes partners from Maryland and Delaware including representatives from industry, agriculture, environmental agencies, and businesses, as well as local, state, and federal governmental organizations. Our mission and goals are to foster partnerships and progress in conserving the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Nanticoke River watershed through dialogue, collaborative outreach, and education. We have multiple programs that our team works on with the community to better the health of the river. Events, publications, workshops, volunteers – you name it, we’ve got it. Some of these programs include Paddle the Nanticoke, Homeowner Workshops, Church Cost-Share Plantings, Residential Plantings, and our Nanticoke Creekwatchers Program. Be sure to sign-up for our mailing list to stay in the loop about volunteer opportunities and how to be involved with the NWA.

Now, back to the program mentioned. The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance’s Creekwatchers Citizen Monitoring Program began 17 years ago, in July of 2007. The program’s primary goal is to accumulate long-term, scientifically credible data to monitor the health of the Nanticoke River and the Fishing Bay headwaters. As the program developed and gained momentum, so did its outputs and reach. In 2017, the program obtained Tier 3 certification of its methodology, which means that data can be used for management and policy decisions by state and federal agencies. From the start of it all, we knew that the Creekwatchers program was ambitious. With over 725,000 acres, the Nanticoke and Fishing Bay watersheds encompass five counties in two states being Delaware and Maryland. The watershed even has over 25% of its land area made up of wetlands – critical ecosystems to both the natural works and humans alike. With understanding of the task at hand, we still wanted to transcend political boundaries and take the “watershed perspective” – after all, water does not know when it passes from one state to the next.

So, what exactly does a creekwatcher do? Our creekwatchers monitor 31 sites throughout the watershed every other week from late March through early November. We provide the equipment and the training and then our volunteers transform into a team of community scientists, going far and beyond the simple collection of a water sample to measuring much of the data themselves. Our creekwatchers look at water clarity, dissolved oxygen, salinity or conductivity, pH, and temperature. All of this is measured on-site with Secchi disk and other field instruments. Samples are also collected that our partner labs analyze for nutrients and chlorophyll a. Then our crew back at NWA takes it from there.

Current and former Nanticoke Creekwatchers sampling sites, the location of the Nanticoke River watershed is shaded in green.

All the data and hard work that our creekwatchers do in the field allow us to have an in-depth understanding of the results and the river. The results help us evaluate trends and potential hazards to human health, the status of watershed health, and help our organization provide updates to the public on the river and watershed. A humble mention as well, our program’s quality assurance plan was the first to receive EPA approval in the Chesapeake Bay region. And since then, we have achieved Tier 3 under the Chesapeake Bay program via the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative.

This program really would not be what it is without our supportive partners (DNREC and the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative) and our fantastic volunteers. The volunteers have donated their time, skills, and passion to make our citizen monitoring program so successful. All of this hard work really shows in our annual Nanticoke River Report Card. Each season’s data helps us understand the present health of the river, while accumulated data allows us to identify potential trends and to create programs that target specific needs. We share our data with other organizations, government agencies, and members of the public. The 15-year report is available now and certainly worth a read.

The Nanticoke creekwatchers program is one of the key efforts of our organization. The work the participants do will help define the direction NWA goes in the future. We will be able to focus restoration activities, outreach events, and workshops based on the data our creekwatchers collect that will strengthen our impact and better the health of the Nanticoke River, the communities surrounding the river, and help us work toward our mission as well. Looking to find out more about the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance? Feel free to reach out to one of our staff members.

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