The economic opportunites offered by the Mohawk River as well as the threat of damage from flooding were the focus of the Mohawk Watershed Symposium on Friday at Union College.
“People are concerned about flooding,” contended John Garver, a geology professor at Union College and an organizer of the symposium, now in its third year. He said that devastating flooding in 2006 made the Mohawk River a prominent issue.
It was in the aftermath of that flooding that the federal and state governments recognized the danger, according to Garver, who added, “It was time to bring everyone together.”
The result was the first symposium in 2009 and the effort to create a watershed management plan. David Mosher, of the Schenectady County Soil and Water Conservation District, offered a promising progress report on the completion of the plan. He said the goal is to protect and enhance the natural resources of the Mohawk watershed.
Garver said that the issues revolving around the Mohawk watershed include flood mitigation, water rights, issues of water cleanliness and aging dams. “It’s a hell of a job,” he said.
As efforts continue toward a comprehensive management plan, Garver said the one thing working in their favor was the shared consensus among interested parties.
One of those interested parties represented at the symposium was the Environmental Study Team, which is a youth-based organization originally based out of Schoharie with a second location in Schenectady. They were represented by Duanesburg High School students Mary Rachael Keville and Zach McKeeby, Schenectady High School student Sapeca Anderson and Schoharie High School student Jessica Jones.
Keville said that she found the day of speakers interesting but admitted that some of the technical language went way over her head.
Jones stressed how their group provides a unique opportunity to learn about the watershed without having to be a professional scientist.
Members of the Environmental Study Team spend about four hours every other week on projects that include water testing, taxonomy lab work and even the production of maple syrup, which they had recently made and brought with them. The group also touted its recent winning of the Environmental Excellence Award from the Conservation Matters program sponsored by Sea World, Busch Gardens and Fujifilm.
The keynote address was of the program was given by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who focused on the economic possibilities of the Mohawk watershed and promoted the promise of his Mighty Waters task force.
The Mighty Waters task force is focused on investment, recovery and public awareness of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, the Erie Canal and other nearby waterways.
“Our water resource is so powerful that it often gets overlooked,” said Tonko.