CUMMING — A Forsyth County environmentalist was recently honored for his efforts in teaching the public about stream quality.
Kevin Smith, an employee of Keep Forsyth County Beautiful, the county’s affiliate of the Keep America Beautiful organization, recently was named the top Adopt-A-Stream trainer in the state.
Smith, who has been a trainer in the program for the past six years and a KFCB employee for nearly eight, said he was honored to receive the award.
“There are 60 active trainers in the state and a handful of them are what I consider to be mentors,” Smith said. “So to be chosen out of that group was really humbling.”
Smith said the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program is a volunteer water-quality monitoring program housed in the watershed protection branch of the Environmental Protection Division.
“It’s an ever-evolving program, it’s a really powerful program and it’s one of the best in the country,” Smith said of Georgia Adopt-A-Stream.
As a trainer, Smith said he teaches volunteers of all ages how to monitor the health of various bodies of water — including lakes, streams, wetlands and swamps — and the animals that live in and around them.
“Most of our work [in Forsyth County] is in streams, but we have been moving into some wetland and swamp areas to do some amphibian monitoring,” he said.
“All of it is about collecting water quality data, so we want to know how healthy our water is.
According to Smith, perhaps the best aspect of the program is that volunteers get to “bridge a gap” for scientists with the EPD.
“The premise is about citizen science. It empowers citizens to work hand in hand with real-world scientists and do scientific data collection,” he said. “In the state of Georgia, of the 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, countless acres of lakes, ponds and wetlands … only 20 percent of that is being monitored.
“If something were to happen that was causing some water quality issues [in any of our local waterways], hopefully we would catch it and then alert the EPD and then they would be able to deal with it.”
Smith offers trainings for the general public each quarter. The next session is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 at Cumming City Hall.
“It’s a two-weekend series and they get three certifications out of it — chemical, bacterial and biological,” he said.
Each year, he said about 150 people from the community go through the trainings. But many more middle and high school students also do so through a partnership with the local school system.
“I work with the high schools and middle schools whenever they call me,” he said, adding that about 800 students went through the program last year.
“The cool thing is the schools that have a stream on their property … the students can actually walk out and do the field work right there,” he said. “As soon as you see them in the stream, all bets are off and it’s a really powerful moment for them.”
As for the community program, Smith said the goal is to have all who graduate then adopt a stream somewhere in the county.
“We’re getting to that point,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do because it’s a monthly requirement and everybody’s really busy. So if you’re not a person with a stream in your backyard, or if you don’t have a deep vested interest in monitoring the stream, the priority isn’t always there.”
Smith hopes to see more people get involved with the Adopt-A-Stream program on a long-term basis.
“It’s a very powerful and important program because not only does it create a tax-dollar benefit, at the same time it’s about collecting environmental data that is very useful in protecting our waterways.”