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'Citizen Scientists' Can Help Greenwich Streams

GREENWICH, Conn. — Standing on the bridge over the Mill River on the edge of Byram and Port Chester, Jack Stoecker points out rock walls lining the banks.

“It’s a very engineered environment, very unnatural,” said Stoecker, coordinator of the Byram Watershed Coalition. “It serves a purpose — to keep the water from expanding into the basements of homes nearby. … But the more ideal situation is to have that stream bank folded back a little bit more, remove that structure, so you get a more natural expansion and contraction of the river.”

This summer, the Byram Watershed Coalition , the Mianus River Watershed Council, the town of Greenwich and the Natural Resource Conservation Service need volunteers to walk the Byram and Mianus Rivers to identify areas along the waterways that should be addressed, including manmade stream banks.

“The method for assessing streams is heavily dependent on, what is called, citizen science,” said Stoecker. Volunteers must attend a training session Saturday at Audubon Greenwich, where experts from the National Resources Conservation Service will give classroom and field lessons on how to assess a stream.

“One of the main issues, obviously, is water quality,” said Stoecker. “If they come across a reach of stream and it’s absolutely coated with green, floating algae, it’s a bit of a problem because it suggests there might be nutrient input in some area of stream that needs to be looked at.”

After the training, volunteers can perform assessments with great flexibility in scheduling. More than 50 people participated in last year’s Stream Walk, mainly focusing on the western area of the Mianus River. This year’s focus is primarily directed on the Byram River.

Stoecker said the volunteers will assess a number of factors, including storm water outfall, which is the flow of water through pipes. If smells such as sulfur or sewage are evident, the coalition may be able to find the source and prevent leaks.

Other areas of concern include identifying areas of erosion, determining the make up of river bottoms, natural vegetation on banks that may prevent erosion or sediment flow, and the number of dams. “Dams prevent fish from moving upstream and downstream, which can affect water quality,” said Stoecker. “They can be modified to allow habitats to pass.”

After the data is collected over the next six months, the coalition will plot a map to get a clear picture of the river's status and identify areas that need to be addressed. The best management plans and a watershed plan can then be created.

“It’s all about accumulating the data and then on a cumulative effort, make tiny changes that may make a big difference over the long run in terms of quality, habitat, flood control,” said Stoecker. “That’s what it’s all about — improving the Byram River overall.”

If you are interested in participating, send an email to Jack Stoecker at byramwc@gmail.com or call 203-253 9348 no later than June 22. Provide your name, organization, email address, phone number and whether you are at least 14 years old. Volunteers under age 14 are welcome, but must be accompanied by a parent. Parental permission signature is required for volunteers under age 18.

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