Making Barrels of Impact

Emma Kelsick, Big Sky Watershed Corps Member

Sun River Watershed Group, Great Falls

I hoisted the empty 55-gallon syrup drum onto my shoulders and trekked over to an open spot on the lawn. I no longer remembered how many times I had made this trip in preparation for my Rain Barrel Workshop, where participants would learn how to collect rain water for home use. Any second now participants would arrive, and I needed to get this last barrel in place before joining our welcoming committee. My goal was to talk to as many folks as possible before I gave my speech on nonpoint source pollutants, storm water runoff, and rain barrels. I hoped that a few smiles and a little bit of small talk would help to calm my pre-presentation nerves.

Participants in SRWG’s Rain Barrel Fundraiser and Workshop. Photo credit: Sun River Watershed Group

The next thing I knew, the event was in full swing! I completed my introduction and looked around to a diverse set of faces as I asked my first question: “Does anyone know how much of the Earth’s surface is water?” I barely finished the sentence before a young girl raised her hand and answered, “70 percent!” I felt the last of my nerves dissipate, instilling confidence to finish my program. I explained how using a rain barrel helps improve water quality by reducing stormwater runoff and the pollutants that water carries. One rain barrel has the potential to save up to 1,300 gallons of water in one year, and rain barrels can be used for multiple years. So the more barrels we have in our community, the more we can reduce runoff and decrease the use of water from municipal services over time.

Emma Kelsick collecting water samples for the SRWG Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program. Photo credit: Connor Mertz.

Finally, we split into individual groups to build and decorate 30 rain barrels. For the next few hours, I mingled through the crowd and helped when needed. I felt particularly proud when all of the participants endorsed the event and said they would recommend it to a friend. I inherited a passion for water and the outdoors while growing up on the small island of Antigua in the Caribbean. I relocated to the Northeastern United States to pursue a Biology degree from Bard College, then journeyed out to Montana last year for an AmeriCorps term with Montana State Parks. Once in Montana, I discovered the Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC), the AmeriCorps program that placed me with the Sun River Watershed Group (SRWG).

The SRWG works collaboratively to protect and restore the resources of the Sun River Watershed and its communities. Their work ranges from improving the health of the Sun River Watershed to fostering collaboration and providing community education. In addition to organizing and hosting the SRWG’s Rain Barrel Fundraiser and Workshop, I assist with field data collections and monitoring, community outreach and education initiatives, and managing social media campaigns on multiple platforms.

Ryan, Reyna, and Emilie (L to R) of BSWC participating in SRWG’s Weed Wacker Rodeo in the SunCanyon. Photo credit: Sun River Watershed Group.

BSWC service isn’t always easy. Many members struggle to find their footing in a new town, quite often in a new state, in the middle of a cold January. However, it’s helpful that 33 other BSWC members are also in the same boat, as well as over 300 other AmeriCorps members throughout the state of Montana. Also, time will reveal Montana really is one big small town as you slowly find your footing a little more.

Emma Kelsick’s service with the Sun River Watershed Group is sponsored in part by the MWCC Watershed Fund and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Big Sky Watershed Corps is an AmeriCorps program that places young professionals in Montana’s watershed communities to make a measurable difference in local conservation initiatives. Members carry out watershed research, project planning and implementation, education and outreach, and community engagement activities.