Water Education Collaborative: A Unique Approach Towards a Common Goal

Water Education Collaborative: A Unique Approach Towards a Common Goal

By Margit Brazda Poirier, Director,Water Education Collaborative

The Rochester area of western New York is situated in a “playground” of lakes, streams, and rivers that include Lake Ontario, the Genesee River, the Finger Lakes and many streams and ponds. With this luxury comes the added responsibility of protecting and improving water quality. Monroe County (Rochester) has a long history of water quality problems as well as improvements. In the 1980’s discharges from sewage into Lake Ontario were virtually eliminated via construction of a combined underground tunnel system that carries both stormwater and sewage and ends up at the wastewater treatment plant. Point sources of pollution from the larger industries such as Kodak and Xerox have been reduced significantly in the last 20 years.

However, the larger problem of non-point source pollution remains. A study of phosphorus loadings showed that 90% of phosphorus in our area comes from non-point sources. Since most non-point sources of pollution come from the collective activities of many people, educating citizens has become a priority in the effort of improving water quality.

The first step is convincing people that we are all part of the problem of water pollution (and, of course, part of the solution). In a recent random phone survey conducted by the County, people were asked, “What is the main cause of water pollution in Monroe County today?” Over 51% of respondents answered “industry”, when in fact most of our major pollutants, such as phosphorus, metals, PCB’s and others, come from non-point sources. Non-point source pollution, or polluted stormwater, includes excess fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and agriculture, air pollution, erosion from construction sites, leaky septic systems, and animal waste to name a few.

The Water Education Collaborative (WEC) was formed in 2001 to work towards a common goal: educating citizens about how to protect and improve water quality. The Collaborative is a coalition of public and private organizations that work together to increase water quality education in the community. The purpose of the Collaborative is to inspire people to help protect and improve water quality in the lakes and streams of the Genesee Region watershed. The WEC includes members from Monroe County Departments, University of Rochester, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the City of Rochester, Eastman Kodak, and others.

The uniqueness of the WEC is that it is not a new not for profit organization, but rather was built on the infrastructure of an existing not for profit organization. Therefore, the Rochester Museum & Science Center [a 501(c)(3)] serves as fiscal partner and host to the Water Education Collaborative. In 2002, the Collaborative is being funded primarily from public sources (County and state grant) and local foundation grants. In 2003, the WEC will undertake a community-wide dues-paying membership campaign to gain public support and involvement, and to reduce the reliance on limited public funds. The WEC:

1) supports existing educational programs and creates new ones as needed,

2) serves as a resource/clearinghouse, and

3) seeks funds to support water quality education.

The group meets regularly to develop, improve and/or support public education programs that include:

  • Community Water Watch Program, a program where citizens learn to monitor the health of streams
  • Great Lawns/Great Lakes Program, an effort to work with residents to keep lawn chemicals out of waterways
  • Workshops to train teachers on water quality testing through the University of Rochester
  • Interactive displays at the a local Nature Center
  • Involving youth and families in community service, such as the upcoming Coastal Clean-Up Event along the Genesee River and Lake Ontario
  • Community-wide events such as “Our Fragile World” at the Seneca Park Zoo
  • Helping local towns and villages meet the EPA Phase II Stormwater Regulations which require educating and involving citizens in reducing pollutants from stormwater runoff.

For more information about the Water Education Collaborative, contact Margit Brazda Poirier, 657 East Avenue, Rochester NY 14607, phone (585) 271-4552, ext. 320 or visit: www.thewec.org.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.