Partnering for Clean Water with the Boys & Girls Club of Mount Vernon

In 2019, Save the Sound began a partnership with the Environmental Club at the Boys & Girls Club of Mount Vernon to address water pollution issues in their community, especially the ongoing sewage discharges into the Hutchinson River from old and leaking city sewer lines. Since then, Save the Sound staff has led activities with the students focusing on legislative advocacy, water quality monitoring, sewage treatment and infrastructure, and the impact sewage pollution has on Mount Vernon’s waterways. Our first outing with the students was a visit to the New Rochelle Treatment Plant in February 2020, where plant operators gave us a tour of the facility and explained the many processes involved in converting raw sewage into clean water. It was an eye opening, nose pinching, good time!

In preparation for our next outing – a stream survey of the Hutchinson River– Save the Sound scientists met with the students at the club and provided trainings on fecal bacteria, nitrogen based compounds, pollution mapping with the Water Reporter app, and general stream survey safety guidelines. When they were done, the students were itching to get out in the field and do some hands-on water quality monitoring!

Save the Sound Environmental Analyst, Elena Colón, and students from Boys & Girls Club discuss all the different materials that go into our wastewater system and all the different ways we contribute.

Hutchinson River Stream Walk

One of the monitoring groups stops to record field observations using the Water Reporter application developed by Chesapeake Commons.

On a Saturday in October, 2020, Save the Sound and the Boys & Girls Club met near Glover Field to conduct a stream assessment of the Hutchinson River, traveling north to Wilson Woods Park. Split up into three groups, the students conducted water quality monitoring under the guidance of Save the Sound staff members. Water quality data collected included fecal bacteria levels, pH, temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen. The teams also mapped the location of storm water outfalls using the Water Reporter app by Chesapeake Commons. They documented three locations where fecal bacteria counts were very high, likely measuring untreated sewage leaking into the river.

See the stream survey data here

For many of the students, this was the first time they interacted with nature in such an intimate way –tromping through the river in waders, seeing schools of tiny fish swim by them, finding turtles, and testing water chemistry. While some were uneasy about getting into the water at first, everyone was soon having a great time and fully engaged with the work at hand. Ending the day with a socially distanced lunch in Wilson Woods, students spoke about all the amazing things they saw –birds, fish, bugs – but also about the trash and the smell of raw sewage. A rewarding experience all around, the stream walk was an important step to establishing a group of young environmental stewards for the Hutchinson River from within their own community.

Melanie taking field measurements in the Hutchinson River under the onramp to the Parkway

Moving forward together

Save the Sound and the Boys & Girls Club of Mount Vernon will continue to work together to tackle the longstanding water pollution problems facing Mount Vernon in the Hutchinson River and the Bronx River. We are encouraged that the City has reached a settlement in federal court that commits them to make the needed repairs to their sewer lines, the primary source of pollution in these rivers. However, ~the data collected~ shows that there is a long way to go before these waterways will flow free of sewage. Save the Sound welcomes the opportunity to engage local youth on these issues and we hope that together we can inspire residents and leaders in Mount Vernon to get involved, hold their elected officials accountable, and work towards a cleaner and healthier environment.

In 2021 Save the Sound, in partnership with Westchester County Planning Department, will begin a watershed planning process for the Hutchinson River. This offers another great opportunity to engage local youth in understanding their local environment, including the challenges our waterways face and the many strategies available to address them. The Hutchinson River Watershed Plan will allow us to specify those strategies and projects for Mount Vernon, some of which we hope to implement in partnership with the youth from the Boys & Girls Club.

Jhadyen, Joseph, Javonne, and Jah’kell end the stream walk in Pelham Lake.

For more a detailed breakdown on the data, check out the project page.

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