February 5, 2014 // 10:55 AM

Garden Spot Village Volunteers Monitor Watershed Health

Written by Scott Miller

This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 Destinations Magazine.

Make a Splash in the Chesapeake Bay

If it weren’t for the Chesapeake Bay, many of us would be up a creek, so to speak. A group of volunteers from Garden Spot Village regularly gathers water quality data from one of the steams feeding the bay, as part of a program to support its fragile health.

The nation’s largest estuary, and one of the largest in the world, the Chesapeake Bay is home to more than 3,600 plant and animal species, and it produces about 500 million pounds of food each year. To a great degree, the bay’s health depends on the health of the 100,000 waterways in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed, which reaches from Virginia north to New York State.

Water Watchdogs

About 10 residents from Garden Spot Village participate in the Water Quality Volunteer Coalition, a program of the Lancaster County Conservation District. They regularly sample water from points along the nearby Mill Creek, test them and submit the data.

“The monitoring is critical to see if Lancaster County streams are improving,” says Matthew Kofroth, watershed coordinator with the district. “If we want to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, we first need to clean up our local streams and creeks. We are doing great work on reducing farm runoff and stormwater impacts, but we have no way of monitoring our success without these volunteers.”

The Garden Spot Village residents are part of a larger group of 30 to 40 volunteers across the country. Each month, they test 15 to 20 stream sites for chemicals, aquatic life and physical characteristics. The volunteers are not looking to identify polluters, but rather to provide baseline data to monitor the relative health of the waterways. They test for temperature, pH, oxygen levels, sulfates, nitrates, phosphates and total acidity.

The Garden Spot Village group checks six or seven sites along the Mill Creek, just around the corner from Garden Spot Village down to Bird-in-Hand.

“These volunteers are the local eyes on the waterways of Lancaster County,” Kofroth says. “The state only has the manpower to send their biologist to our local steam every 10 years.”

Skilled Scientists

The Conservation District trains the volunteers, provides equipment and chemicals, and warehouses the data. The monitoring program began in 2001. In 2007, the district wanted to expand its reach.

“After discussions with Colleen Musselman, we were encouraged to do a short presentation,” Kofroth says. After the presentation, several interested residents came forward, and the Garden Spot program was born.

“I had extra time, and it had something to do with chemistry, so I figured, ‘Why not?’” says John Edwards, a Garden Spot Village volunteer who holds a doctorate in chemistry. Several other team membesr have professional backgrounds in science or medicine. They go out in teams of two, rotating through the list.

“We are glad we reached out to the Garden Spot Village volunteers,” says Kofroth. “They are very knowledgeable about the natural world and how things work in nature. They are dedicated, hard-working volunteers who have provided valuable data that did not exist before this program.”

Learn more at lancasterwatersheds.org.

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