OUR COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Austin Youth River Watch
River Watchers Restoring Austin Streams
Austin Youth River Watch combines environmental education with drop-out prevention, providing a safe place for teenagers to grow and gain confidence, while learning to be active stewards of our planet. In the current program, approximately 120 at-risk students from nine Austin Independent School District high schools learn to collect, analyze, and publish water-quality data from 25 freshwater sites along Austin-area streams and the Colorado River.
The new program funded by Impact Austin will engage these students in hands-on stream restoration projects, such as bank stabilization, vegetation management, and trail building. These week-long service-learning projects will include a weekend “work day” with community volunteers led by the students. The new program will benefit Austin-area streams and the ecosystems they support through at least 10 restoration projects each year; enhance students’ knowledge of aquatic science and improve their leadership skills; and involve at least 100 new community volunteers.
The Impact Austin grant allowed the River Watchers to perform 22 distinct service projects over the past two years with 19 different partners, complete 1,016 hours of student River Watch work, and engage volunteers in 491 hours of work while also continuing the organization’s regular water quality monitoring program.
An unexpected benefit of the expanded program is that new community partnerships brought fee-for-service opportunities in addition to broader exposure for AYRW’s work. In addition, partners at the City of Austin Watershed Protection Division have discovered a new referral option in the AYRW for requests the City receives for projects on private property that are outside its jurisdiction.
Austin Youth River Watch also has been delighted to see the impact on its students. Nearly all students report via pre- and post-surveys of their River Watchers program significant improvement in their knowledge of water and environmental issues, and greater interest in these issues. One story of students that live near Slaughter Creek, Vitaly and Chris, really shows this growth. Vitaly and Chris reported to River Watch staff that a creek bank in their neighborhood had been “blown out” by recent flooding, and with every new rain storm the erosion was getting worse. Because of their River Watch experience, they not only recognized the problem, they also knew that they could do something about it!
AYRW coordinated with the City of Austin to confirm what type of involvement could be pursued, while the students worked with their neighborhood association to gain attention and support for improving the site. Ultimately the Crockett River Watchers worked to stabilize the eroding channel by harvesting and planting beneficial, riparian grass species and constructing “check dams” in the channel to dissipate energy from flow events and rebuild the banks. Vitaly and Chris participated in the project along with representatives from their neighborhood association. One of the students, Vitaly, has now graduated from high school and is pursuing a degree in Wildlife Biology at Texas A&M as an outgrowth of his River Watch experience.