“My Experience So Far…” by Alex Cooper

May 28, 2024 | Blog

Growing up in the suburbs of Lancaster County, I could either be in downtown Lancaster City or surrounded by farmland within 5 minutes, depending on which direction I drove. As a teenager, I didn’t realize how unique those drastic, sharp changes in landscapes were. Since then, almost all of my time working towards clean water has come in other areas – New Jersey, Philadelphia, even Mississippi. So when I started as the Project Coordinator here at the Partners in January, it didn’t take long to realize Lancaster has special challenges and potential.

As a Lancaster native, it’s exciting to be working toward water quality with so much experience, skill and leadership around me. On day one at our office in the Lancaster Farm and Home Center I met the staff at LCCD, who have been leaders in soil and water quality in Lancaster County for over 70 years! That’s unparalleled in this field.

My main task here at the Partners is to lead the National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF) program Crescendo in Collaboration, a collaborative effort of organizations working to restore a selection of impaired streams to health as part of the Partner’s Stream Delisting Strategy. Crescendo emphasizes the use of data collection and analysis to drive strategic, targeted implementation of water quality improvement projects based on a range of important environmental and social criteria. The Chesapeake Conservancy packaged this data as user-friendly map layers, many of which are part of the Collaborative Mapping Tool, a key resource anytime but especially when learning new geographies. Water Science Institute is also part of Crescendo in Collaboration and has also contributed mapping analysis that introduces new stream restoration opportunities on headwater streams – the target of the Stream Delisting effort. As a geography student and a map geek, it’s to learn about and use these tools. 

PSU leads our watershed leadership academy and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake gets congregations across Lancaster into clean water. Congregations plant trees, convert lawns to meadows, buffer their streams, and even implement green infrastructure. Having worked in urban areas, I know how rewarding it can be to see partners use green infrastructure as a community resource that adds educational and aesthetic value to a neighborhood. This spring, Ascension Lutheran Church in West Lampeter planted 70 trees to provide a canopy over the parking lot and will plant over 2000 landscape plugs this fall to convert turfgrass lawn into a meadow. This past fall, the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd planted a rain garden to capture and slowly infiltrate runoff from their rooftop. Next, the church will plant a larger rain garden that manages stormwater from their large parking lot before it enters Stauffer Run. 

With spring now in full swing, some larger, earth-moving projects are being constructed, including some stormwater improvements with East Earl Township at Shady Maple. I’ve got my eye on some outdoor and educational events coming up, especially Lancaster Water Week. Organized by the Lancaster Conservancy, Water Week has a ton of opportunities to float down our streams or check out hiking trails. 

I’ve come across so many fascinating projects and beneficial community programs in the past few months; too many to list here. And some of the innovative ways of problem-solving around clean water issues happening in Lancaster make me proud to call it my hometown.