The new executive director of a nonprofit organization that collects data on the quality of local waterways has appealed to the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority to continue to fund the group’s work.
“We realize that the RWSA has many financial commitments and that you get a lot of requests for funding,” said David Hannah of StreamWatch. “We do feel that funding for StreamWatch is appropriate because we provide services and information that no one else in the watershed is [collecting].”
StreamWatch began monitoring the health of rivers and creeks in 2003 when it was part of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. In 2010, it became a separate nonprofit.
The RWSA has funded the organization since 2004, according to former Executive Director John Murphy.
The ultimate goal of StreamWatch is to help improve the quality of health of all streams in the Rivanna watershed.
“We are a non-advocacy group that is science-based, neutral and objective,” Hannah said. “We were formed through a diverse collection of local partners, all of whom agreed on a need for unbiased data to help with the management of our waterways.”
Much of the work is conducted by volunteers, with 130 active participants who contribute more than 1,500 hours of labor each year. Each “citizen scientist” is rigorously trained before being allowed to collect data.
Hannah said that led the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to grant a Level 3 partnership to StreamWatch, a status that no other nonprofit in the state shares.
“When we go out into the streams and identify the macro-invertebrates and the bugs that are in the stream bottom, the DEQ will accept that from us,” Hannah said. “They take our data directly and use it in their statewide assessments.”
Hannah said the organization is able to attract other funds because of the $10,000 from the RWSA. Albemarle County gave $10,380 for the upcoming fiscal year, and Charlottesville contributed $10,000. Other funding comes from foundations such at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.
“It’s a nice mixture of funding and each source of funding complements the other and adds to our ability to attract funding,” Hannah said. “Your funds are leveraged in several ways.”
One member of the RWSA board wanted to know if the $10,000 offset any costs the agency would otherwise have had to spend.
“I’m trying to figure out the value-added [services],” said Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd. “Would we have to pick up some of this cost or some of what we’re doing if we did not fund StreamWatch?”
Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the RWSA, said he could not express the value in monetary terms.
“What I can say is that we are benefiting from the value of the information they are providing,” Frederick said. He added that Virginia does not require wastewater treatments plants to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of outflows, but that the RWSA has that data anyway because of StreamWatch.
However, Boyd pointed out that the localities already fund the service.
“[StreamWatch] is a value to the community … but it seems to me to be a bit of double-dipping as far as the ratepayers go, and they’re the same people,” Boyd said.
Other members of the RWSA board indicated support.
“One could argue [our support] is responsible stewardship that reflects the values of both parties,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin.
“Knowing that the streams are being monitored gives RWSA staff the additional impetus to do the best they can,” said Michael Gaffney, chairman of the RWSA.
A final decision on whether the RWSA will continue funding StreamWatch is expected to come at the next board meeting, in May. At that time, the RWSA board also will consider a request from the Rivanna River Basin Commission for $25,000. That organization has never received funding from the RWSA.
This was the first time Hannah appeared before the RWSA board since taking over the executive director position from Rose Brown. He previously worked for the nonprofit Wild Virginia.
“His existing relationship with our partners had made his transition as close to seamless as possible,” said John Ince, chairman of StreamWatch’s board.