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Penn State Extension's Water Resources Team Earns National Award
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 08/18/2022

Members of Penn State Extension's water resources team recently earned national recognition at the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals' annual conference, held this year in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The team received a Gold Award for the publication "Simple Solutions for Your Eroding Backyard Stream," a resource developed in conjunction with Extension's Backyard Stream Repair Program -- a live, five-part webinar series. The program is aimed at educating residents on healthy stream conditions and ways to improve their own backyard stream, with the goal of enhancing water quality throughout Pennsylvania.

To date, more than 600 people have participated in the program. Each webinar participant received a copy of the publication.

Landowners face a range of challenges with streams, according to Jennifer Fetter, water resources extension educator and team leader. Streambank erosion may cause land to sink into a stream. Widening and deepening streams could threaten infrastructure such as a bridge, picnic area or house foundation.

"We're talking to people who are frustrated with their stream because they're losing property, the stream is flooding their driveway or basement, or it's become dangerous to use lawnmowers near or for kids to play around," said Fetter.

"Simple Solutions for Your Eroding Backyard Stream," is a guidebook that leads landowners through steps they can take on their own to help protect and restore their streams. The 20-page, full-color manual covers stream assessment, stream repair options, instructions on choosing plant materials, potential grading and required permits, and maintenance tasks for a successful project. Techniques are meant to be simple and affordable.

"The center of the book has charts that help people with choosing plants to add around their stream to stabilize or restore it," Fetter said. "Folks seem to really like that plant selection portion. They also like that the book provides step-by-step guidance."

The water resources team spent 2019 preparing to reveal the new publication and launch new programming at the beginning of 2020.

"And then the pandemic happened," Fetter said. "It was a little deflating for us -- we weren't sure how successful we were going to be in getting this important resource out to people."

But she said the timing worked out perfectly.

"The publication is really geared for people who have streams on their property and are looking for solutions that they can do themselves, as opposed to having to hire a professional to fix a problem with a stream," Fetter said. "The early time of the pandemic ended up being an incredibly popular time for people to seek out do-it-yourself resources. We were so glad to have the book ready and available to help serve that audience."

Out-of-state users have benefitted from the publication as well.

"The basic concepts are the same," Fetter said. She tells those outside of Pennsylvania to pay attention to their growing zones and adjust plant selection accordingly. Permits also vary from state to state, so non-Pennsylvania residents should check with local agencies for guidance.

At the conference, Fetter and her colleagues were recognized in front of peers from around the country. They presented on both the program and book. "We had the opportunity to share with our peers the work we've done and some of the impacts and encourage others to use our publication, or to come up with something similar for their state," she said.

According to the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals' website, the awards program "fosters high standards within the membership, recognizes significant achievement, and expands the use of high-quality, innovative materials and programs by honoring the outstanding members and partners who developed them."

Everyone involved in creating the manual earned recognition. "We submitted the nomination as a team," Fetter said. "We included our copy editor, our designer and all the folks who helped make the publication happen."

That sense of collaboration is something Fetter and her team take pride in: "Everybody did a beautiful job putting together such a helpful resource," she said.

Those honored for their involvement in the award-winning publication include Extension educators Jennifer Fetter, Danielle Rhea, Susan Boser, Julianne Schieffer and Vincent Cotrone; Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center program manager Kristen Koch and former intern Amanda Grube; Allegheny County Master Watershed steward coordinator Mary Wilson; editor Amanda Kirsten; and creative design specialist Jenny Walker.

The publication is available at for purchase on the Penn State Extension website.

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