When Science and Personal Experience Come Together, Decision Makers Are Interested in Our Story

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden

As a graduate student studying Energy and Environmental Policy and a research assistant with the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Center, clean water is something that is extremely important to me. From discussing policies that govern our nation’s waterways to collecting water samples for various testing out in the field, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about water-related issues, and I want our local, state and federal legislators to know just how much is at stake when it comes to water quality.  

I was first introduced to environmental issues as a freshman in high school. At the time, a fossil fuel producing corporation invaded my hometown of Dallas, Pennsylvania to explore natural gas reserves. Since my mother dedicated her early adult life to working in a laboratory as a synthetic organic chemist, she was extremely familiar with the volatile organic compounds used in the fracking process. My family and I spent countless hours at townships meetings and zoning board hearings to fight against natural gas development in my small town. After months of pushback from the residents and three experimental wells failing to produce a viable amount of natural gas, the company decided to cut their losses and move onto the next town. However, with the high influx of gas coming from the north, a metering station was constructed close to my high school; and 9.5 miles of additional pipeline was laid to tie into the interstate Transco pipeline. These series of unfortunate events sparked my interest in environmental issues and put me on a future career path in environmental advocacy.

Since starting at the University of Delaware Water Resources Center in September 2018, I have worked on dozens of projects for several local organizations. In addition to completing fieldwork for the White Clay Wild & Scenic River Program, I have worked on a variety of projects for the Clean Water Alliance, Delaware Nature Society, City of Wilmington’s Green Jobs Program, and Delaware’s chapter of the American Water Resource Association (AWRA). For example, in the fall, I completed a semester-long project related to agriculture for the City of Newark’s Source Water Assessment. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, I created a map of all farms in the Newark watershed and labeled them according to crop/animal type, which will be utilized to identify sources of agricultural pollution. My work with the University of Delaware Water Resources Center has allowed me to learn more about local water issues, network with professionals in the field, and work collaboratively with peers to spread the word about the importance of clean water.  

On March 6, I attended a lobby day in Washington, D.C. organized by the Choose Clean Water Coalition. Along with representatives from the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and from across the entire Mid-Atlantic that discussed watershed-wide issues, members of the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice Clean Water Alliance spoke specifically on the need for dedicated funding for clean water right here in Delaware. We met with staff from Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Blunt-Rochester’s offices. In addition to thanking them for their efforts in funding clean water initiatives at the federal level, we asked for an increase in funding for programs related to the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River Basin. Lobby day gave me the chance to talk about my research, meet with fellow Water Warriors, and advocate for change within Delaware’s watersheds.   

Often, those in the science field may feel uncomfortable with advocating for things like improved water quality and conservation in general. But, having done it locally in my hometown and now nationally with Delaware’s Congressional delegation, I can say from experience that decision makers and regulators at every level want to hear our story. From the personal reason we joined our field to the fact-based evidence and science we have to back up our requests, every decisionmaker I met with took the time to truly understand why I cared about the issue. I encourage you to consider advocating for dedicated clean water funding in front of our decision makers. If you are unsure on where to start, the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign has a number of resources available and are always willing to talk to meet to discuss why citizen advocacy is so important and how you can make your voice heard in front of those that make the important decisions that affect everything from the water we drink to the ecosystem around us.

Interested in learning more about how to become a Water Warrior and advocate for dedicated clean water funding in Delaware? Contact our outreach coordinators, Laura Miller and Ellie Ezekiel at 302-239-2334 or laura@delnature.org and ellie@delnature.org.

Kelly Jacobs is a first-year master’s student at the University of Delaware and works for the university’s Water Resources Center. She graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics where she started her own Environmental Club and served on the Sustainability Advisory Committee. Her research interests include the relationship between the extractive industry and the environment, water quality, and issues related to environmental justice.