By: Nohra Murad and Jenny Cutraro
Maintaining clean waterways: it’s a challenge confronted at the local level by communities across the globe. Stormwater runoff, trash, even sewage overflow, often contaminate urban waterways, degrading wildlife habitat, reducing opportunities for recreation, and placing drinking water supplies at risk.
To confront this challenge, citizen scientists across the country have come together to monitor and protect their watersheds. One such example is Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed, Inc., a partnership between researchers and enthusiastic Philadelphia-area residents working together to take care of the watershed, or network of streams, creeks, and other bodies of water, that drains into the Delaware River . The initiative exists to identify and service areas of the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed that need cleaning up in order to provide clean water for recreation. Most of these areas are in suburban neighborhoods near the Takoony Creek in Montgomery County, which becomes Tacony-Frankford Creek when it crosses the border into Philadelphia.
The people who volunteer for TTF, called “Streamkeepers,” collect data and identify trends in water quality from month to month to help track seasonal changes and identify signs of pollution or dumping. They then send their data and photographs to local researchers, who help direct the volunteers during clean-up events.
Like many Streamkeepers, community watershed expert Alex Cooper got involved because he had noticed the industrial-level quality of the local Frankford Creek and wanted to do something about it. “We want to come back to the community and show what Streamkeepers have discovered,” he said.
Volunteer Karen Serfass got involved with TTF after seeing the work that Streamkeepers shared with local high school students. Since becoming a Streamkeeper herself, she says that her experiences with citizen science projects have deepened her personal connection with the natural world. “Everything is connected in nature, and that whole concept is something I developed much more as an adult than as a kid,” she said.
Retired high school teacher Geoffrey Selling decided to become a Streamkeeper after bringing his fifth grade class to visit their local watershed, where TTF education director Judith Gratz showed the kids how to test the water for chemical pollutants. He says Streamkeepers are the first ones to notice any spills or damages in the creek and says that it’s been particularly rewarding for him. “I feel involved, useful, and as if I’m contributing to society,” he said. “I’ve made friends, learned new skills, and gotten to know a whole new watershed,” he said.
To get involved with TTF, visit the TTF Watershed website and choose from a variety of projects and programs looking for volunteers. Cooper encourages anyone interested to get involved at home, in the classroom, or by becoming a full Streamkeeper. He also encourages those who can’t make it to any of their field sites to help with data analysis at home by contacting him directly. Selling adds, “It is a very welcoming process, and once involved, it’s easy to stay involved.”
This citizen science effort is funded through the William Penn Foundation‘s Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), whose mission is to protect and restore the Delaware River Basin’s water quality and ecological health. Participating organizations use data from science-based efforts to implement stream restoration and green infrastructure projects as well as informing municipal stormwater permits and public investments. The Academy of Natural Sciences and Stroud Water Research Center are leading the watershed analysis work, and guiding us as we train and mobilize these citizen scientists.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!