Reflecting on water monitoring and citizen science at the Maryland Water Monitoring Council conference
December 9, 2019
Written by Suzi Spitzer
On December 6th, I attended the Maryland Water Monitoring Council conference at the Maritime Conference Center in Linthicum, Maryland. I have attended this conference for the last few years and I always enjoy the opportunity to network with local scientists, environmental management professionals, educators, and others, and learn about the latest and greatest monitoring and restoration efforts that are going on across the state.
Maryland's Secretary of the Environment, Ben Grumbles, gave the first of two plenary talks. During his presentation, he touched on this year’s conference theme, “Where we’ve been, where we’re going” when he spoke about the State’s management progress and future directions. He encouraged us to strive for “one water,” or integrated water resource management that challenges us to re-think how we view and value water, embrace water re-use, and prioritize green infrastructure. I was particularly pleased when he emphasized that it is the government’s responsibility to tap into citizen science data and local knowledge to make better investments and policy decisions, and also to educate the public on what the most important issues are for the management and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
Next, Nick DiPasquale, retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, gave a presentation on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. He first highlighted some of the lessons learned through his career, emphasizing the importance of setting clear and attainable goals, leaning on partnerships, managing expectations, targeting actions, maintaining adaptability, and increasing public access to the Bay, to name a few. Again, to my delight, he highlighted the importance of volunteer science, saying “citizen monitoring is absolutely critical for us to be able to extend our reach and understand parts of the watershed that we wouldn’t normally be able to see”. He also named a few of the challenges that the Bay Program has encountered, including politics, diversity (the lack thereof), Pennsylvania, “the damn dam” (referring to the Conowingo Dam), and climate change. Nick’s talk was a great overview of the work that the Bay Program is and has been doing, and gave us all a lot to think about.
The first concurrent session that I attended was a series of talks related to submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) management, moderated by my colleague, Brooke Landry. Speakers presented on a variety of topics, including the history of SAV restoration in Maryland, seed harvesting and planting, microplastics in SAV beds, and remote sensing and citizen science. Brooke gave a talk on the recent development of a three-tiered program for monitoring Chesapeake SAV. Last year, IAN contributed to developing the second tier of the program when we created the Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchers Program, which is the first monitoring program geared towards non-SAV experts in the watershed. It was interesting to hear how the SAV Watchers program fits within the broader monitoring framework between the Bay-wide annual aerial monitoring program and the upcoming Sentinel Sites program.
After lunch, I attended many talks focused on citizen science, outreach, and education. Presenters spoke about many really interesting topics, including the introduction and evolution of volunteer water monitoring in the Severn, the (monetary) value of volunteer-collected data in Virginia (the answer is $3.2 million a year!), litter reduction in Prince George’s County, and the first citizen science bacteria monitoring program in D.C. I especially enjoyed Dionna Bucci’s presentation about her experience developing various outreach materials as an ecologist working for Fairfax County’s Stormwater Management Program. It was inspiring to hear how her team created a character, Stormy the Raindrop, and then developed various coloring books and other educational materials featuring him, which were used in local classrooms to teach children about stormwater management.
The conference social was hosted at Checkerspot Brewing Company, and it was a fun time, as usual. It was a great chance to try local beer, catch up with some old friends, and meet a few new contacts. On the tour of the brewery, the guide talked about the importance of water quality to the brewing process, emphasizing that “water is the first ingredient in beer”. One thing that this conference has definitely taught me over the years is that water quality is important to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons! I am already looking forward to next year’s meeting and learning more about different people’s perspectives on how we can most effectively work together to improve the health of Chesapeake Bay waterways.