Watershed Ambassadors Program a Win for Water Sector Workforce

This content was adapted and originally appeared on the Association of Environmental Authorities’s blog.

Several AEA member organizations get a boost for their community outreach and education efforts and great prospects for hiring via participation in the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program, which was first developed and initiated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in 2000.

Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority (SCMUA), Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) and Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority (CMCMUA) host and supervise AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors for their state-designated watershed management area, as part of a unique cooperative partnership arrangement with NJDEP. Their ambassadors are selected and hired by the NJDEP Division of Water Monitoring and Standards and charged with the mission of promoting watershed stewardship. Another AEA member organization, the Hamilton Township Department of Water Pollution Control (HTDWPC), recently hired a former watershed ambassador, Julia Galayda, whom they came to know through the Mercer County Park Commission Tulpehaking Nature Center, which had hosted her. Galayda completed her ambassador’s term in July and is now an environmental health aide at HTDWPC.

The current ambassador for SCMUA is John Ragsdale. ACUA hosted Kristina Koreivo as a watershed ambassador. She has since moved into a position at the NJDEP Division of Water Quality. ACUA temporarily hosted Kristen Andrada. CMCMUA is now hosting her.

In return for a modest stipend, watershed ambassadors like Galayda, Koreivo, Andrada, and Ragsdale complete a proscribed number of hours over the year of their ambassadorship and submit carefully kept records of their attendance and work record. They are required to do environmental community service and raise awareness by way of watershed stewardship projects. The ambassadors are assigned by NJDEP to a lead agency in each of New Jersey’s 20 designated watershed management areas.

Koreivo took water samples, participated in shore/bay cleanup events, and helped run rain barrel workshops. The ACUA watershed ambassador typically helps deliver that authority’s popular and multi-dimensional annual Earth Day observance. At SCMUA the ambassador has the opportunity to work side-by-side with the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (WRWMG), providing them assistance with their day-to-day efforts to coordinate and implement watershed outreach, restoration, and stewardship projects. Galayda did stream clean-ups, rain barrel workshops, and presentations, and she completed 20 stream assessments with the DEP.

Nathaniel Sajdak, the SCMUA-WRWMG’s Watershed Director, actually served in the very first class of the Watershed Ambassador Program, and was hosted at the SCMUA in 2000-2001. NJDEP interviewed and subsequently chose Sajdak for the program right after he graduated college with a biology and environmental science degree.

“Being a watershed ambassador was a natural fit at that point in my life, where I was looking to begin a career in the environmental field,” says Sajdak. Upon completing his AmeriCorps term of service, Sajdak was officially hired by the SCMUA to be the Watershed Coordinater for the WRWMG.

Now in his 18th year as watershed director for the SCMUA, Sajdak leads a team of three who work in a variety of ways throughout the community to directly improve water quality in the watersheds of Sussex County. Ultimately, watershed management and stewardship has become one of three environmental services the SCMUA delivers, supplementing the primary mission of solid waste management and recycling and wastewater treatment. The WRWMG prides itself on facilitating three overall programs: agricultural outreach and assistance, stormwater management, and riparian enhancement. Through these programs, the WRWMG works directly with farmers to implement best management practices on farms such as manure collection and storage systems, with community members to build green infrastructure projects like rain gardens, and local landowners to reforest floodplains.

As AEA-member watershed ambassador host agencies have discovered, watershed ambassadors can be great additions to the staff, and this is a very important consideration in industry with a “graying” workforce. In addition to Sajdak, Kristine Rogers, who was the SCMUA’s watershed ambassador from 2014 to 2015, is now employed by the SCMUA to be one of three team members of the WRWMG, serving as the education and outreach specialist. Gary Conover, who is the program supervisor at ACUA, says his authority has hired several former ambassadors during the 13 years of ACUA’s participation.

Galayda works in the HTDWPC lab, preparing and testing samples. She came across the watershed ambassador program announcement through an Internet search in 2017. She had a bachelor’s degree in marine science and environmental science, but wasn’t entirely sure what path her career should take. She did not know whether she wanted to work in the field, in an office or in a classroom.

“The ambassadors program helped me see what I wanted to do,” she said.

More information: https://www.nj.gov/dep/wms

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