Advocacy Program Trains Watershed Volunteers

January 25th, 2021

When Annette Loveless strolls around Lawrenceville these days she notices downspouts, rain gardens, swales, and other types of green infrastructure used at homes and businesses as a way to control polluted stormwater runoff.

She became aware of the importance of green infrastructure as one of 65 participants in the first Community Watershed Advocate Program (CWAP) at The Watershed Institute. This effort seeks to build a corps of volunteers to assist the Watershed’s advocacy team. They help educate the public and local governments about green infrastructure, which imitates natural ways of absorbing and controlling excess stormwater, by speaking up at local meetings as well as sharing information with their families and communities.

The Watershed pivoted to online programs during the pandemic, and a need arose for finding a way to harness the energies of volunteers who formerly had come to do water-quality testing, stream cleanups, trail work, and assist at the Watershed Center.

The Watershed’s advocacy team gauged volunteers’ interest in joining the effort to encourage municipalities to adopt strong stormwater management ordinances that address flooding and improve water quality. With the pandemic resulting in municipal governments across the state holding their public meetings online, it was suddenly easier for residents to participate from their homes.

While the inaugural class worked on stormwater and green infrastructure issues, the next training that starts in March will explore protections for urban watersheds.

“Hearing from constituents who are passionate and knowledgeable about the issues of flooding and water quality is vital to raise awareness among local elected officials and to drive the adoption of strong environmental protections,” said Sophie Glovier, Assistant Policy Director. “We have already seen the impact that our Watershed Advocates are having, particularly when they work in groups together.”

Participants came from varied backgrounds and communities, ranging in age from students to seniors.  

Arjun Agarwal, a senior at Lawrenceville High School who will attend the University of Pennsylvania next year, said he is working on a proposal to build a rain garden at his high school and plans to present it to the Student Council.

“We learned a lot about the watersheds in New Jersey — we analyzed the watershed in our towns and presented the differences in the watershed to others in New Jersey,” he said. “The fact that there was so much geographical diversity and range of ages really enhanced the program.

“The one takeaway that I didn’t know before was how easy it is to attend a town meeting and speak up and make a point. The training taught us that it was open to the public and how to do it properly; networking with the leaders and presenting your points in a clear and logical way,” he added.

Annette said the course has informed her perspective as a member of the Lawrence Township Environmental Committee and her actions with Sustainable Lawrence.

“Before the training, I didn’t realize the impact of the built environment with the volume and quality of our water and that there are some simple things, as well as grander things, that can be done such as disconnecting the downspout from the gutter to spill into the lawn instead of into a stream,” she said.

“Once you start realizing, you see everywhere how the water is running and if you follow the path, you can connect it to the erosion that is happening. Awareness is key.”

For information on joining the next training, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Eve Niedergang at [email protected].

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