Watershed Action Education

Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck PHD
Environmental Education
Ferris State University
Department of Biological Sciences

Director, Muskegon River Watershed Assembly


If you want to make a positive difference where you live and work, then education is the first step. Consider educating yourself and others about what it takes to create and maintain a healthy watershed. The second step is taking action and following through with what you learned. Next, share what you learned with family and friends, and getting small groups together outdoors to work on watershed improvement projects.

To start your watershed education, consider adopting a broader lens for viewing the landscape within which you live. If everyone adopted a watershed perspective, it would help us identify connections in nature. As we realize how we use our natural resources and discover our impacts, we can start to move toward a better environmental quality to live and work.

Although you may not live next to water, understand that a river and a lake extend beyond its water’s edge. All that lives and exists around it are part of the water body. This is the watershed – all the water that falls on, runs off, or flows through it will drain into a common water point such as a river or lake. The water will cycle through the system, often carrying substances that it encounters. We depend on clean, fresh water to recreate in, fish from, and in some locations obtain drinking water.

All the water that exists right now is all the water that ever was or ever will be. It is up to the individual to keep the water around them clean and to reduce the runoff of water that falls on the land. Learn what you can to protect our waters and then do it.

Around the house. These simple things can make a positive difference in your world and for other people. The following watershed action items will prevent potentially harmful substances from cycling in the watershed, create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, and will protect the land and water around you.

  1. Dispose of pet waste properly.
  2. Clean up litter.
  3. Reduce waste by recycling, repurposing, and composting.
  4. Conserve the amount of water you use.

Eliminate runoff. Water runs off from hard, impermeable surfaces and will carry pollutants, erode soil, cause turbid (cloudy) waters due to excess suspended sediments, and can raise water temperatures, alter fish beds, nutrient loads, and functionality of the aquatic system. As part of your watershed action education, try the following exercises around where you live.

  1. Where are the hardscapes, or impermeable surfaces around you? Rooftops, driveways, parking lots, and sod can be places where water runs off without penetrating and infiltrating to the groundwater – map these areas.
  2. After the next rain event or major snow melt, find where standing water and runoff exists around where you live and work – make a note and map the locations where the water exists on your property.
  3. Now, make plans and act. Make a list of ways to eliminate the standing water and runoff across hardscapes or sod. Consider planting native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees where you have issues with standing water, runoff, and hardscapes. This also encourages pollinators and birds while discouraging invasive species. Contact your local conservation district office or an internet search can provide where to find native plants to minimize runoff. Native plant sales are often taken in the early spring.

Community service and science. Volunteering your time to help your community and the environment benefits everyone. These rewarding experiences are open to anyone. The opportunities get people outdoors creating a better place to live and recreate in or can provide valuable information for watershed scientists. The following ideas are watershed action projects for you and for those who you want to engage in protecting the watershed.

  1. Litter clean-ups can be rewarding and beneficial to our watershed. Consider organizing an event with your family, friends, club, class, organization, or church group. Contact the MRWA for upcoming events and let them know of any area you would like to clean in the region.
  2. Native tree plantings are the most cost-effective way to protect the land, water, and air. Planting native trees will prevent the soil from eroding, stabilize streambanks, and “purifies” our air by sequestering carbon dioxide while also providing oxygen.
  3. Stormwater drain stenciling can be a straightforward and educational initiative you could do with other volunteers of any age. This activity involves identifying local open storm sewers and stenciling a watershed approved image and text that educates others where that sewer drains. Some people regard sewers as a place for dumping pollutants – which is not true. Stormdrains lead directly to the nearest waterway. We need to protect the waters by taking action against anything other than water that drains into them. It is also important to keep these drains cleared of leaves. This is all part of the education you can provide. Contact the MRWA with your interest.
  4. Stream quality monitoring is an exciting way to collect data for our watershed experts. Check with the MRWA for how you can participate in annual monitoring events. You will learn how to collect aquatic insects and analyze local streams using simplified methods.

If you did one thing that was listed above, what would it be? Start small, but the important thing is to start. Act with the watershed in mind. A watershed action education is for everyone. We are all connected. Remember …

  1. Educate yourself and others about how to create and maintain a healthy watershed.
  2. Take action to protect your watershed.
  3. Get involved with the MRWA to stay connected with the watershed concerns, restoration initiatives, organized community science opportunities, and chances to volunteer with native plantings and litter clean-ups. Consider reaching out to local schools to share what you learned and help youth get involved with doing something meaningful for their school, home, and community.


Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck, Ph.D.
Environmental Education
Ferris State University
Department of Biological Sciences
Big Rapids, MI 49307


Southern New Hampshire University
STEM Faculty


Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education
EE Certification Coordinator
Green Teacher, Regional Representative


Muskegon River Watershed Assembly
Project Manager, Lower Muskegon River Watershed Management Plan


MI-DNR Academy of Natural Resources
Education Planning Team