Your Turn: Upper Susquehanna Coalition helps Broome County to stop flooding

There is strength in numbers, and when the Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District wants to protect homeowners from local stormwater flooding in the Susquehanna Basin, it calls in a “stream team” to help. Regional collaboration is the smart way to address conservation issues in the Southern Tier.

The Upper Susquehanna Coalition is a national model for regional conservation and local soil and water district collaboration. Over 30 years of conservation work is collected and shared at the local level by Broome County, Tioga County, and 15 other soil and water districts working together in New York.

Just last month, the USC coalition hosted its annual retreat at Traditions in Johnson City, with topics including a “Midpoint Assessment: What’s Next for Watershed Restoration.” The session was jointly presented by Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Lucinda Powers and Ken Kosinski of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Joe Graney from Binghamton University also talked about local watershed challenges and solutions in Broome County.

USC members from over 21 soil and water districts, four in Pennsylvania, examined regional issues and identified the water resource concerns or flooding issues by geography. Landowners in Broome and Tioga counties also should take these local flooding or stream-bank stabilization issues to heart. If a riparian tree buffer needs to be established and this can translate to sending local volunteers, USC can mobilize folks to help stop floods or stream pollution. Why not volunteer in the community for tree planting this spring?

The regional organization, representing one of the largest aggregation of partners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, works in sustainable agriculture best practices and in stream protection. USC also had one of the first model wetlands programs and became experts in wetlands restoration.

The Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District faces many of these stream issues and flooding concerns.

Charles “Chip” McElwee, executive director of the Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District and vice chair of the coalition, said, “Broome County did bring the coalition stream team in to help us re-engineer outside the Binghamton urban area. One stream in particular starts in Pennsylvania, flows into New York and discharges into the Susquehanna River at Vestal. We have had coalition staff assist in a number of areas in the Town of Vestal with serious stream-bank erosion.

“Broome County was fortunate and secured some discretionary National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding through the USC, which created 700 feet of stabilization on a bank that was about to flood ten homeowners.”

“I credit the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund for allowing us to be flexible and handle solutions locally and truly blossom,” said Wendy Walsh, who is the USC board chair, watershed coordinator as well as district manager for Tioga County Soil and Water District

“The Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund is a key funding source for 21 counties across two states,” she said. “NFWF has been tremendous in permitting the flexibility of the program in a way that supports our approach and the system used by USC.”

McElwee added: “We all tend to help the other counties. We offer expertise in certain areas where other counties may need it including boots on the ground.”

Mike Smith is a former Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter who covered the environmental beat. He now works at GreenSmith Public Affairs in Fairfax, Virginia.


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