Celebrating World Water Monitoring Day with a Schuylkill River Sojourn
The Schuylkill River Sojourn is a unique tradition of paddling the entire Schuylkill River, from headwaters in Schuylkill Haven, through Berks and Montgomery counties, into Boathouse Row in Philadelphia.
The 112 mile, 7 day canoe and kayak trip was started by a few kayakers 19 years ago, and is now organized by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. We kayaked from June 3rd to June 9th, and camped in parks and green spaces along the way! With the support of the Schuylkill Action Network, I had the opportunity to kayak the trip as the Sojourn Steward, a volunteer position focused on linking recreation with stewardship, citizen science, and education. I am from Berks County, PA, and growing up exploring the Schuylkill River (and tubing down the Brandywine!) piqued my interest in pursuing a career in conservation.
As the Sojourn Steward, I spent the whole week testing water quality. I measured the ability of the water to support aquatic life and looked to discern levels of pollution. I measured pH levels, temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and nitrate levels, following GLOBE protocol, an international network of educators, scientists, and citizen-scientists. After the trip, I uploaded the test results to GLOBE.gov to add it to an international database of citizen science hydrology information.
As we paddled and observed how land use changes impact our river, we also stopped and heard from many different people along the way who are working to protect and celebrate the Schuylkill River. The connection between these conversations and the water quality data I was collecting was one of the most meaningful aspects of my experience on the Sojourn. By paddling almost the entirety of the river, I learned that the biggest challenge to protecting the Schuylkill—the scale and diversity of the landscape—holds the key to the solutions. Getting to see the landscape-scale collaboration and communication linked with the range of local efforts by individuals, community groups, watershed associations, educational institutions, municipalities, and counties was so cool. I was able to see in a new way how watersheds truly link people together and appreciate that everyone in the region has a role to play in source water protection.
As a Land Stewardship Intern at the Brandywine Conservancy this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to go more in depth with one method of watershed protection in particular–conservation easements. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization or government entity that protects environmental resources. Easements are designed to identify and permanently conserve our land and water, including natural, cultural and scenic resources.
By working with landowners to protect their property, easements are a unique tool for working toward landscape-scale conservation on a localized level to meet the needs of each individual parcel. Stepping back and looking at the pattern of easements over the past 50 years, the Conservancy has partnered with various organizations and government agencies to preserve significant swatches of land within important source water protection areas along the Brandywine-Christina watershed, starting with the Brandywine’s headwaters in Honey Brook, and continuing within areas of the White Clay Creek and the Red Clay Creek watershed basins. As a Land Stewardship Intern, I assist our easement staff with monitoring and reporting on the Conservancy’s conservation easements. I have been enjoying the opportunity to see in action the land stewardship practices that protect the water we rely on!
On the Sojourn, the water quality test results showed the Schuylkill River staying within healthy ranges. This data is meant to be a snapshot of the river’s health, giving us the chance to take a glance at how the river’s water quality changes during its entire stretch from Schuylkill Haven all the way to Philadelphia. Other aspects of the monitoring were including my fellow paddlers in the process, and using social media to share with anyone following along with our journey!
It was truly incredible for us to see the Schuylkill river’s resilience- we even paddled below a pair of nesting bald eagles! However, we did also see the amount of oxygen (the river's ability to support aquatic life), decrease as we traveled downstream from the forested headwaters in Schuylkill County. We watched the levels of pollutants (salts, fertilizers, metals, etc.), fluctuate but overall, increase as we paddled through agricultural regions, and areas that have increasing development in Berks and Montgomery counties. Testing the water is often a reflection of how land is being used and managed in a watershed.
Many of the challenges faced in protecting the Schuylkill River Watershed are similar to those we work to address in the Brandywine-Christina Watershed. We all contribute to the health of our water in different ways, and one of the most important ways to take action to help improve water quality is to practice good land stewardship at your home, school, or workplace. Check out the Brandywine Conservancy’s page on Super Stewardship to find out more!