High School Interns Learn About MWA and Watershed Health

On Thursday July 19th, MWA had a group of high school interns through the Youth Philanthropy Internship Program with Community Foundation of Westmoreland County visit the organization. The goal of the visit was to help promote environmental awareness and raise a better understanding of environmental problems plaguing rural communities throughout the Laurel Highlands. Eric Harder, the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, Peter Kester, MWA’s full-time AmeriCorps Member and Mike Schloer, board member volunteer, were their mentors around the Indian Creek watershed for the day. The first part of the day consisted of repairing the broken sections of fencing around the Melcroft treatment system. Nearly 100 new railings as well as a few posts were replaced. The high school interns learned about the process of capturing Abandoned Mine Discharges into a treatment system to clean the polluted water before it returns to the hydrologic cycle.

The second part of their visit was a stop at Resh Park in Indian Head to learn about water quality and water monitoring efforts in the Indian Creek watershed. Two different activities, water flow and macroinvertebrate surveys, were demonstrated and performed. Water flow measurements are important to establish a standard water level and to check for changes in riverbed topography. Blocked waterways prevent fish migration and food movement throughout the different water sections leading to degradation of aquatic ecosystems. Macroinvertebrate surveys are important to assess the overall health of a stream, river, or creek. The presence of sensitive aquatic bug species correlates to an overall healthy aquatic ecosystem. When sensitive bugs are no longer found in previously healthy water, then some type of negative change has occurred in that ecosystem. Those changes can come from mine drainage, landscape changes, broken infrastructure, or any number of man-made and natural influences.

This volunteer project was carried out to implement a recent grant MWA received from the Trail Volunteer Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. This grant allowed us to purchase enough posts and rails to upgrade the fencing around the Melcroft treatment system as well as along the Saltlick section of the Indian Creek Valley (ICV) Trail. As a part of the grant, all of the work replacing the posts and rail must be completed by volunteers. We were able to count the students’ time towards that total. The overall amount of volunteer time calculated, which is valued at $24.14 per hour, must then match or exceed the entire project’s budget.

Thanks to the help of this great group and several other volunteers, we are well on our way to upgrading all damaged fencing and meeting the requirements of the grant. MWA is very thankful to have had such enthusiastic help from this diverse and energetic group of young men and women.


Photo credit: Mike Schloer