While social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on many volunteer activities, individuals can still make a difference in their environment and communities, according to a news release.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service is shifting its volunteer-focused efforts to protect and improve waterways within the Illinois River and Beaver watersheds to focus on individual actions shared through a social media campaign.

Sarah Spangler, Washington County water quality agent for Cooperative Extension Service, is spearheading “Caring during COVID: Water Quality Edition,” a social media campaign designed to encourage Arkansans living in those watersheds to engage in actions that help protect waterways in their areas. The watersheds primarily cover Benton, Washington, Carroll and Madison counties.

“I know that right now people are feeling pretty cooped up and are maybe having a hard time staying positive,” Spangler said. “I think this event can provide people with a little bit of encouragement, that even though things are uncertain right now, we can still make a positive impact in our community.”

When participants engage in a conservation activity, from picking up pet waste that might otherwise go into sewer drains, to properly disposing of litter, the campaign encourages them to share images and video through social media using the hashtags #WokeWaterWisdom, #WaterIsGreaterThanGold and #knowtheflow.

April 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the annual Earth Day celebration. The “Caring During COVID” campaign will span from April 1 through May 25, Memorial Day.

“I want people to remember that we can’t forget to take care of our planet, even as we make sure we are taking care of ourselves,” Spangler said. “By being involved in best management practices each person can have a direct impact on the quality and health of our waterways.”

Some best management practices that Spangler recommends include:

• Installing a rain barrel

• Reading fertilizer and herbicide labels to use only what you need on your lawn and garden;

• Planting native vegetation for erosion control;

• Building a rain garden

• Picking up the pet’s waste and throwing it away or flushing it down the toilet;

• Conducting a personal litter cleanup (but be sure not to touch food related items since they could have touched a person’s mouth that has the coronavirus);

• Properly discarding personal trash in a public space;

• Properly discarding household hazardous waste at a disposal facility;

• Going to a car wash or washing a car on grass/gravel instead of pavement.

Beyond the positive feeling associated with putting in effort to make a positive difference for the environment, Spangler is also hoping to incentivize individual action through a series of distinctive buttons, which she helped design and will mail to individuals who share images and descriptions of their efforts on social media.

To receive a free button, participants should message Spangler at her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UAEX.WashingtonCo.Spangler.WaterQuality/ or on Instagram at @nwawokewaterwisdom, and indicate which button they would like to receive. All buttons will be prepared with proper PPE, including a face mask and gloves, and will be sanitized prior to mailing. All physical address information will be kept private and deleted after buttons have been mailed. There is no cost to participate.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent, visit www.uaex.edu or on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.