By Katrina Vaitkus
In 2018, the Warrior Run Watershed, located in the northern part of Northumberland County in Pennsylvania, was selected to be part of the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI). This USDA-NRCS program provides funding to accelerate voluntary, on-farm conservation efforts, as well as monitor and assess water quality. Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD) has been working closely with NRCS to develop the Watershed Plan needed to move them from the ‘Readiness Phase’ of the program to the ‘Implementation Phase’.
“As our team began working on a Watershed Plan, we discovered there was a large sector of producers with whom we have not worked. We knew that if we wanted to work with them, we needed to get to know them,” said Judy Becker, NCCD District Manager.
With the help of Ryan Cherwinski, an agriculture conservation technician brought on with a 2018 NACD Technical Assistance Grant, the district was able to do just that. Cherwinski spent a lot of time reaching out to landowners and stakeholders in the watershed, making vital connections and establishing producer ‘buy-in’.
Through that process, Becker says Cherwinski made contact with a landowner who encouraged him to put together an event to get more landowners on board. Subsequently, Cherwinski worked with the district and NRCS to host an ice cream social on August 22, 2019.
At the ice cream event, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did an electroshocking demonstration on the stream, teaching producers about stream health and best management practices. Chantel Shambach, NCCD Water Specialist, did a macro-invertebrate kick and helped children identify what they found in the stream. “It was just a really nice evening,” Becker said.
With about 50 people in attendance, the ice cream social was deemed a success, leading to a breakfast event in January 2020 to continue discussions about the NWQI. At this event, kids were able to play with groundwater and stream simulators. A landowner spoke to the group about his positive interaction with the district, sharing stories about the streambank stabilization project the district helped him complete. His talk encouraged others to work with the district, both through the NWQI and other programs.
“We feel strongly that people want to hear from people like them,” Becker said. “I think it’s so much more helpful when you’re hearing from someone that is a fellow farmer.”
While Cherwinski is no longer with the district, his work played a major role in helping them establish their Watershed Plan. The district is hoping to move into the ‘Implementation Phase’ of the NWQI soon, which will give them access to funds for projects in the watershed.