We Got SWAMPed and We Loved It

by Braxton Orso, Kassey Trahanas, and Ryann Wilcoxon

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As the rivers of Alabama run their 45-mile southerly course through the Delta and into Mobile Bay, they carry water from 44,000 square miles of land stretching from parts of Mississippi to Georgia and encompassing most of Alabama. This makes the Mobile Bay Watershed the sixth-largest watershed in the United States. Given this vast amount of water and the fact that Mobile sees the most rainfall in the 48 contiguous states, one can imagine what else besides water flows down the rivers, creeks, and streams into Mobile Bay and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Water from rain, known as stormwater, flows over streets, parking lots, and roofs, taking with it nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants from fertilizers, pet waste, and pesticides, as well as causing sewage overflows. All of this waste ends up draining into Mobile Bay - the bay in which we love to swim, fish, and play. 

This knowledge is new to most, especially students ranging from elementary to high school age, who file into auditoriums and classrooms to listen to AmeriCorps Members from Mobile Baykeeper’s Strategic Watershed Awareness and Monitoring Program (SWAMP) talk about watershed fundamentals and pollution issues.  

While our presentations lay the groundwork for students, SWAMP goes beyond the classroom to teach students hands-on skills to make an impact on environmental issues they care about. We teach high school students about their local watershed and environmental issues throughout their community. We encourage them to sign up to be water quality monitors. 

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This year, students from Vigor, Fairhope, Citronelle, LeFlore, and Alma Bryant participated in SWAMP, giving them the opportunity to learn how to be certified water quality monitors and participate in field trips to test sites in their local community. We trained students from these five high schools through Auburn University’s Alabama Water Watch Program (AWW). 

The Alabama Water Watch Program involves the use of the Alabama Water Watch water quality testing kits. With these kits, students performed six tests on water quality. These tests include temperature, pH, alkalinity, hardness, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. These parameters indicate water quality in the students’ local streams. They then use the data to identify pollution issues, which they try to solve through solutions projects. This has a profound impact as students build upon what they learned with water testing skills to find and solve issues. 

As AmeriCorps members, seeing this impact helped us realize how much we have accomplished this past year. Throughout every presentation, activity, and field trip we felt we were affecting positive change in our community by sharing our passion for clean water with new citizens in the upcoming generation. Through over 100 presentations and over 20 field trips we taught over 4000 students high school age and younger about pollution and its effects on our water. We also trained approximately 100 students to be water quality monitors. 

Citronelle Monitoring with bridge sampler Kassey, Fall 2018.JPG

SWAMP students learned the impact pollution has on ecosystems and the communities they live in. From working with LeFlore students on litter and dumping in the Toulminville community to helping Fairhope students address turbidity caused by construction site runoff, we helped our SWAMP kids to create real change. What better way to guarantee a clean water future than to bring up a new generation of responsible citizens who care about clean water? 

We are proud that we helped ensure clean water for our beautiful coastal communities. We are grateful to Mobile Baykeeper and AmeriCorps for giving us the opportunity to make this impact, and we encourage others to join AmeriCorps so they can find passion in their work as well.

Having the privilege to become a role model and environmental leader to the students meant a great deal to us. There was nothing more rewarding than watching these students grow into promising environmental stewards by making changes in their own lives, encouraging their family and friends to make better choices, and pursuing environmental studies and careers. With so many achievements being conquered this past year with Mobile Baykeeper’s Strategic Watershed Awareness and Monitoring Program, we hope SWAMP becomes even more successful and inspiring for years to come.