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by Louisa May

RiverBad news- watching is not enough anymore. America’s waterways need help, and many communities are relying on the efforts of volunteers, not politicians, to maintain them.

The good news is that you can have fun, make friends, and build community spirit while you monitor and refresh your local waterways as an Adopt- A- Stream volunteer. And there’s more to do than pick up trash.

In Massachusetts, stream teams work with the Massachusetts Dept. of Fish and Game in a variety of programs. The Lake Watershed Program was one pilot project whose purpose was to

1. help citizens find root causes of water quality problems

2. support grass roots planning and implementation of actions that help restore lake water quality and improve watershed management.

Another opportunity for volunteer groups in Massachusetts is a stream restoration project, the Instream Flow Steward Program that helps local groups identify, document, and restore rivers and streams that suffer from low flows.

I’m suddenly reminded of an Oscar Wilde essay in which a young woman named Vivian resists the- “let’s get out of the house” entreaties of her companion, Cyril. He encourages her to enjoy the “mist upon the woods, the purple bloom upon the plum.” But she sits comfortably in the library of a country house in Nottinghamshire countering his enthusiasm with complaint, reminding him that “nature is so uncomfortable. Grass is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful black insects.”

Vivian’s right. It’s true. You get a little dirty working and playing outside, and there are bugs. When you are recruiting your help for a stream keeper project, try to play down the bug bites and emphasize instead the social benefits of being a volunteer.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is an amazing resource for people wanting to learn more about protecting local streams, watersheds, and coastlines.

Savannah State University is a coastal regional training center, serving eleven counties. They specialize in conducting Adopt -A- Stream training and coordinating activities in coastal Georgia and also offer education in aquatic ecology.

Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsors an Adopt -A- Stream Program. Local businesses, civic groups, schools and scouts are invited to help keep Virginia’s rivers, streams, lakes, and bays clean. Volunteer groups commit to one to two cleanups a year for two years. Groups adopt a minimum of a quarter mile length of shoreline. The DCR provides trash bags, safety vests, gloves, and custom signage featuring the adopted waterway and organization. Some tips they have for volunteer groups include:

1. Make sure your crew can handle the stretch of waterway you choose to adopt.

2. If possible, pick a waterway that is meaningful to you and your community. Give your group several choices.

3. Be flexible.

Check with your municipal government office to find out who to contact and how to get started. Remember to check with local authorities about any private property restrictions before you begin. And when you’re done for the day, a pot luck dinner or barbecue is a great way to celebrate your efforts and make plans for the next stream team get together.

Check out our Green Pages for information on money saving tips that help the environment. Once there, click on the Green Forum to see more articles by our green feature writer Louisa May.

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