A Decade Of Growing Greener - Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons - Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Assn.
When attempts to create an Environmental Advisory Council were contentiously opposed and ultimately defeated in a local municipality in Northampton County at the start of the new year, some proponents of the EAC, including a couple local officials, decided to redirect their energy and create the next best thing for addressing local environmental issues and concerns—a community watershed organization.
But with little knowledge about how to begin that process, these folks quickly contacted the county conservation district’s watershed specialist for direction on how to form a watershed association.
One of the primary responsibilities of conservation district watershed specialists—whose positions are supported by the Growing Greener Program—is to assist with the formation and development of community watershed organizations.
Consequently, and thanks to the Growing Greener Program support of the Northampton County Conservation District, the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association was readily established during a meeting at the conservation district headquarters on February 4th, 2009 by a group of concerned citizens, who didn’t let local politics defeat their vision for an environmental organization that would advocate for the conservation and preservation of their natural resources.
The newly-established Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association is committed to protecting and improving the water resources and quality of life for the tens-of-thousands of people who live, work and play in the boroughs and townships that encompass the nearly 80-square-mile region drained by the Bertsch, Hokendauqua and Catasauqua creeks, and adjacent streams in the northern end of the lower Lehigh River Valley.
In whole or in part, this region includes the boroughs of Catasauqua, North Catasauqua, Northampton and Walnutport; and the townships of Hanover, Allen, East Allen, Lehigh and Moore, in both Northampton and Lehigh counties.
Headwater streams along the Blue Mountain and natural places like the Bertsch Creek Seeps, Neff’s Pond, the Weaversville Ponds, and thousands of acres of public and private wild lands filter and clean the region’s surface water and groundwater resources for people and wildlife alike throughout this multi-municipal region.
As a result of the failed EAC efforts, this team of local men and women, who represent the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association, are motivated and dedicated to advocating for, protecting and improving the region’s land and water resources for families living in northwestern Northampton County, and nearby communities in Lehigh County.
As one of the association’s founding members and a local planning officer put it, “Protecting water resources is without a doubt one of the most important things we can do in local government.” Therefore, an important goal of this all-volunteer, community watershed organization is to work with local governments to ensure that there is enough clean, safe drinking water for families who live in the region today, tomorrow and for future generations to come.
Only in its infancy, BHCWA has already developed its mission, objectives, bylaws and charter; held its first public meeting; launched a website; elected officers; organized and sponsored its first community, outdoor recreation program—a nine-mile canoe and kayak adventure for nearly 40 people on the Lehigh River, in partnership with the Northampton County Conservation District, the Fish and Boat Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; has volunteered to partner with the Department of Environmental Protection and the county conservation district to conduct water quality assessments this year on waterways under its stewardship; and will participate in the 2009 Lehigh Valley Watershed Conference at De Sales University this fall.
The association has just begun a strategic planning process, in which it will ultimately outline steps needed to reach its goals, determine funding needs, and decide on project and program priorities. Challenges in the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua watershed region include a lack of riparian buffers, eroding stream banks and the possible, future listing of impaired waterways in the lowest reaches of the Hokendauqua and Catasauqua creeks.
The association knows that partnering with local governments, county and state natural resource agencies, and local and regional nonprofit organizations with similar environmental objectives will be key to BHCWA successfully addressing and resolving these challenges.
Examples of opportunities that the fledgling BHCWA will embrace include working with the Northampton County Conservation District watershed specialist for continued technical assistance, working with the Lehigh Valley Greenways Partnership and the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission to help these organizations advance their greenways plan and conservation landscape initiatives in the BHCWA region, and working with both the Northampton and Catasauqua area school districts to help teachers and students meet state-mandated, academic standards for watershed education and environmental literacy.
Presently, the association is offering free membership, in hopes that local residents will want to join BHCWA and help make a difference by working together to actively support and participate in this community watershed organization, and its important mission of water resource protection.
The association fully intends to apply to the IRS and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for nonprofit, charitable organization status, which will enable BHCWA to accept tax-deductible donations, obtain liability insurance and apply for grants to fund watershed restoration projects and education programs.
The Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua watershed region’s recreational resources, like the Lehigh River, the world-famous Appalachian Trail, state game lands, a county park and many municipal parks and open spaces, provide abundant opportunities for healthy, outdoor recreation and exercise.
These public recreational resources are gateways for local residents and visitors alike to get outdoors and experience, learn about, appreciate and enjoy the region’s many watersheds and natural treasures. According to Chris Amato, President of BHCWA, “One of the most important components of watershed protection is public education; one citizen at a time, so that we all know the ramifications of our choices, and so that we all know how to make good choices for generations that follow us.”
So in addition to advocating for, protecting and restoring local natural resources, BHCWA will also be a leader in connecting people to them in an enjoyable, educational and meaningful way.
During its inaugural, organizational meeting at the conservation district headquarters last February, BHCWA heroically became Northampton County’s sixth community watershed organization to help protect and advocate for the county’s watersheds and water resources.
Now, with the establishment of the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association, every one of Northampton County’s major watersheds are under the stewardship of a grassroots organization of citizens, who are working together to protect and preserve water resources and water quality for all of the county’s nearly 270,000 residents.
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