When it comes to water resources, can one person make a difference?

Whether working alone or working with others, taking action can help your local watershed.

A sampling of some of the more common items collected on the shoreline of the Detroit River during the 2016 annual cleanup. Participating in a trash cleanup is just one way to make a difference. Photo: Mary Bohling | Michigan Sea Grant

A sampling of some of the more common items collected on the shoreline of the Detroit River during the 2016 annual cleanup. Participating in a trash cleanup is just one way to make a difference. Photo: Mary Bohling | Michigan Sea Grant

“Average citizens” often wonder if it is possible to make a real change in our communities. What can just one person do that will really change things for the better? The answer is, there are many ways individuals can get involved in making changes to improve local water quality.

As someone who has been active with the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Program and their associated Public Advisory Councils, I have seen first-hand how individuals have brought positive changes to their local water bodies.

The Great Lakes Areas of Concern Program is a federal-state-local partnership that brings together state and federal scientists with community members to improve “Areas of Concern.” Areas of Concern are water bodies affected by environmental impacts from legacy pollution caused by human activities. Those impacts mean that communities often can’t eat the fish they catch, swim at their beaches, or drink the water from their local water body.

Public Advisory Councils are composed of everyday citizens and are an integral part of the AOC program because they are the way that individuals can have a say in what is needed to restore their local water body. Residents help government partners learn about their community, create strategies for success, and provide a vision for their waters. Michigan started with 14 Areas of Concern sites and has completely restored two—thanks to the dedication of local Public Advisory Councils. Twelve more sites are in various stages of restoration.

Council members are “average citizens” who decided to learn about the problems of the local water bodies and then work with federal and state scientists to come up with strategies to correct those problems. They also contribute to the improvement of their water bodies through writing and contacting their legislators to educate them about problems and advocate for solutions, volunteer for various clean-up efforts, manage PAC projects, show leadership as water stewards and more.

Are you an “average citizen’ who is concerned about your local waters? Get involved. Here are just a few ways:

  • Make simple changes at home:
    • Create a rain garden
    • Use a rain barrel
    • Don’t toss waste (such as plastics, yard waste, or paint) into storm drains
  • Learn about impacts affecting your local watershed
  • Join a “friends of the watershed” group or public advisory council
  • Write and contact your legislators
  • Volunteer with adopt-a-beach or adopt-a-stream
  • Send before and after photos of cleanup projects to your local media
  • Run for local or state elected offices

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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