Volunteers needed to monitor health of local waterways

Jeanette Carrillo, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.
·2 min read

Apr. 14—As Earth Day 2021 approaches on Thursday, April 22, those concerned about the state of the planet look for ways to give back to Mother Nature.

Whether it's picking up litter at a local park, being extra mindful of recycling opportunities or helping out at local fairs aimed at educating people about environmental challenges, it's rewarding to realize that simple efforts make a difference.

However, for those who work tirelessly to ensure local waterways remain healthy, Earth Day is, literally, every day.

"Our regional waterways are very important for drinking water, recreation and the economy in general," said Julie Lukert, stream monitoring coordinator for AmeriCorps Project Conserve, on the eve of the organization's stream testing event.

"We are very excited to be able to host a virtual training and social-distanced demonstration for our Stream Monitoring Information Exchange Volunteer program this year on Saturday, April 17, where volunteers will have fun sampling local streams for water quality. ... Topics covered include basic stream ecology, how to report water quality problems, identify aquatic insects and field sampling skills."

No experience is required to volunteer for the event, and Lukert said volunteers usually have a lot of fun wading through local waterways and learning about the aquatic environment.

On the day of sampling, volunteers will help sample a minimum of two sites, spending about two to three hours at each location.

SMI partners with other nonprofits and local businesses to use the data collected during the stream testing for information that helps restoration and conservation projects in Haywood County.

SMI is part of the Environmental Quality Institute.

"Thanks to volunteers and partner organizations, we have water monitoring sites in a dozen WNC counties. We try to sample the mainstream rivers, large tributaries and known problem areas," Lukert said.

EMI has approximately 75 active volunteers who help with various programs, but it is always looking for more. Volunteers range in age from 17 years old to adults, and all training is provided.

This year, due to COVID-19, training will take place a bit differently, Lukert explained, with part being administered over Zoom. The morning lab session will be virtual, with the afternoon session being a stream-side demonstration.

The Environmental Quality Institute is a very small non-profit, consisting of two employees, one AmeriCorps member and a handful of college interns, Lukert said.

"We truly could not do even a fraction of our work in both biological or chemical water sampling without the endless efforts of our amazing volunteers. It has been humbling to work with such a hardworking and insightful group of people throughout the years. Our volunteers continue to keep us in operation to this day. We value their safety above all else during these trying times so we do our best to provide virtual and socially distanced options for our events and sampling dates."