Sidney Center is nestled amongst the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in Delaware County, New York. Most may not know it, but this rural community located hundreds of miles from the tidal Chesapeake Bay resides entirely within the Bay’s watershed. Sidney Center lies within the Carrs Creek watershed, a small tributary of the upper Susquehanna River, approximately one hour south of Cooperstown, N.Y.
A very rural area, in recent years this small community has been devastated by catastrophic floods and severe groundwater contamination. “2006 was the worst flood in recent memory,” says Joe Lally, president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group. “Two truck drivers were killed in Carrs Creek when a culvert failed and a portion of Interstate 88 was washed out.” In addition to loss of life, there was destruction of private housing, loss of livestock, and loss of land due to erosion. Most of the community has also been exposed to contaminated groundwater caused by failing septic systems.
Inspired by these issues, Joe, a lifetime resident of the area, and other members of the Community formed the non-profit Sidney Center Improvement Group to address problems in their area. As part of this new effort, the Sidney Center Improvement Group contacted the Chesapeake Bay Program for help dealing with the water resource issues. Joe grabbed the attention of Wink Hastings, who is responsible for assisting local communities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
Wink has been working with the Sidney Center Improvement Group for three years now on addressing land use and water quality issues in the Carrs Creek watershed. In 2008, through funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Wink and the Sidney Center Improvement Group arranged for the assistance of Leah Miller and Mat Webber from the Izaak Walton League Save Our Streams Program to train the community in conducting stream corridor assessments and monitoring water quality in Carrs Creek and a branch of the creek known as Willow Brook.
The community conducted the first stream corridor assessment in September 2008. Local citizens chose various segments of Carrs Creek and Willow Brook and assessed conditions in these segments. The group looked for erosion, cows in streams, trash dumping, fish barriers, and other signs of poor land stewardship. This data was then placed into two GIS databases. The first was an ArcGIS database that can be used for writing a watershed management plan. The second was an online database, designed using Bing Maps, that can be easily accessed by the public. Because of these efforts, the group was featured in an article in the January 2009 edition of Outdoor Life.
The group will begin quarterly water quality sampling in 2010. They have mapped out their sample sites and are looking at engaging local schools and colleges to assist with collecting and organizing the data. They are also looking for funding for resources to purchase monitoring supplies. This fall, at the request of the Improvement Group, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition plans to begin restoration of wetlands within the Carrs Creek watershed to help mitigate flooding problems.
While still very far away from the Chesapeake Bay, it is no less important to engage local communities like Sidney Center. Archaic land use practices (e.g. drainage tiles and ditching in crop fields) are highly prevalent in the watershed. Many landowners are losing large segments of land at an alarming rate due to erosion exacerbated by flooding.
“The beauty of a project like this is that the community is able to meet several objectives through a single, coordinated approach. By helping to improve conditions in the watershed, we are helping improve the quality of life for local citizens, and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Wink says. “Community residents are also learning how to work more effectively with local leaders and institutions; it’s the equivalent of a Civics 101 course.”
With the inevitability of larger, potentially more damaging rainstorms caused by climate change, small watersheds such as Carrs Creek couldexperience higher sedimentation and nutrient loading. However, engaging local communities on how to “hold the line” and maintain healthy conditions in their watershed can help ensure that conditions in the watershed and the Bay are improved and sustained.
The community of Sidney Center still has a long way to go to “fix” the problems in their watershed. Funding is very scarce right now, and they have had difficulty getting noticed by many potential funders. Nevertheless, the group is determined to continue pushing forward to find a solution to their problems. “For the Sidney Center Improvement Group to work on this project, and with help from the Chesapeake Bay Program, we’re not only improving environmental conditions in our watershed but we’re increasing our ability to work as a community,” Joe says. “Thanks to this project, the community has strengthened its relationship with elected officials, Delaware County, and the local school system.
The Sidney Center Improvement Group is made up of an executive board and several workgroups that meet on a monthly basis. The Water Quality workgroup currently meets the third Thursday of every month from 6:30pm-8:00pm in the Sidney Center Library (contact Joe Lally, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information). The group invites non-profits and government program representatives to come and talk to them about opportunities and partnerships that could help them meet their goals.