More than 165 people who are working to protect natural resources gathered recently at the new STEPS building as Lehigh hosted the fourth Lehigh Valley Watershed Conference.
The conference, held every 18 months, brings together conservationists, municipal officials, educators and scientists to raise awareness of the problems facing local watersheds and to build partnerships to solve those problems.
The conference underscored the ties between conservation groups and Lehigh students and faculty, who are collaborating on watershed issues.
Healthy watersheds are essential to preserving natural resources like fresh water, clean air and fertile soil, says Frank Pazzaglia, chair of earth and environmental sciences and co-director of Lehigh’s Environmental Initiative. They are also sources of energy and they provide essential services, such as carbon sequestration.
“The conference has evolved into a regular event that represents this clientele in this region,” says Pazzaglia. “It is a model for what groups in other parts of the country can do to reach out to people and groups interested in protecting watersheds.
An up-close look at insects
“We take it for granted that we have as much water as we want whenever we want it, but that’s not true.”
The theme of the one-day conference was Watershed Science. Twelve concurrent sessions focused on watershed geology, invasive species, recreation, community gardens and other topics.
Taking advantage of the facilities in the STEPS (Science, Technology, Environment, Policy and Society) building, conference attendees took part in two laboratory workshops. The afternoon lab used scanning electron microscopy to examine aquatic insects.
Pazzaglia gave a presentation on the geology of watersheds, and Johanna Blake, an EES graduate student studying environmental science at Lehigh, talked about her research on metals in the environment at Palmerton, Pa.
John Pettegrew, associate professor of history at Lehigh, spoke on the Bethlehem community gardens project, and George Yasko presented work on feasibility studies of micro-hydro projects in the Lehigh Valley. Yasko is the field projects and laboratory manager for the Lehigh Earth Observatory (LEO).
“Biodiversity in our own backyard”
The conference’s featured speaker was J.R. Shrute from Conservation Fisheries Inc. in Tennessee. Shrute was profiled in the April 2010 issue of National Geographi, which was called “Water, Our Thirsty World.”
Shrute’s organization restores fish populations that have been depleted by pollution or habitat destruction. He told the crowd that the southeastern United States has a wide variety of aquatic species, and the northeast is no different.
“We often go to exotic places to study biodiversity,” he said. “But we don’t need to go to the ends of the world. There’s a tremendous diversity in our own backyard. If we don’t protect these things, they’re gone.”
In addition to Lehigh, other groups organizing this year’s event included the Lehigh County Conservation District, the Northampton County Conservation District, the Saucon Creek Watershed Association, the Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley and the Wildlands Conservancy.