We turn on our taps and water comes out. We pull the plug, and there it goes. But where did the water come from? Where did it go? This spring, students from Prince Charles Secondary discovered—through in-class sessions and hands-on action projects that saw them preventing the spread of yellow flag iris in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area and installing a mycoremediation water filter at a local farm—that the answers to those questions are much more complex than the conveniences of modern life have led us to believe.
Their journey through the water cycle story was led by Know Your Watershed, an education program from the Columbia Basin Trust. This program, administered and managed by Wildsight, sees local educators visit classrooms for sessions on all things water and takes students on full-day field trips into their community’s watershed. Over the course of a few days, students learn how their water gets from Arrow Creek to the faucet—and all about the return journey down the pipes, through wastewater treatment and back into the water cycle. And this spring, the Grade 9s at Prince Charles Secondary took their water investigation even further by leaving their desks behind and rolling up their sleeves to take on some student action projects.
Erich Meyer’s class loaded up 40 mycoremediation bags (burlap bags full of wood chips inoculated with Stropharia rugoso—try saying that five times in a row), leaving the fungus to grow for three weeks, and then heading out to local farm Root and Vine Acres. Once there, the students got to work installing a natural system to help filter the far too nutrient-rich runoff from the farm’s duck pond before it makes its way into the water canal on the Creston Flats, where excess nutrient can destroy a delicate ecological balance.
“The students learned how to reduce point source water pollution coming off agricultural lands by using a growing fungus to absorb manure nutrients from the water,” said Wildsight educator Melissa Flint, “a valuable lesson in our agricultural valley where much of our runoff flows into wetlands along the Kootenay River.”
Kathleen Takeada’s and Michael Fischer’s grade 9 classes headed out to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area to help stop the spread of the invasive yellow flag iris. Laurie Frankom, from the Central Kootenay Invasive Species Society, gave a talk about invasive species and the Wildlife Management Area provided chest waders, gloves, clippers, burlap bags, wheelbarrows and a trailer to load up with yellow flag iris for disposal at the landfill. Students also learned how to prevent the spread of invasive species by choosing non-invasive plants for gardens, being careful with pets, who can carry invasive weed seeds, and by making sure boats are clean, drained and dry when moving them between waterbodies. Students also discovered how to identify American bullfrogs, an invasive species that have made their way to the Creston Valley and how to report bullfrogs or any other invasive species.
“Spring really is a perfect time to be out looking at issues that affect our water supply, and try to understand the complex variables that can change water quality, and water quantity in our local watersheds,” said Wildsight’s Know Your Watershed Coordinator Dave Quinn. And with the program being updated alongside the revised BC curriculum and moving from Grade 8 to Grade 9 classrooms this year, the 7th season of Know Your Watershed—much like the time between winter and summer—was one of transition.
Given that some students were getting a bonus year of watershed knowledge, topics were tailored to the individual classroom to avoid repetition. Some students learned about the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, the international agreement between Canada and the United States to coordinate flood control and optimize hydropower generation on both sides of the border. Some students participated in hands-on learning about water quality monitoring and macroinvertebrates, those tiny creatures that live in our waterways as indicators of stream health. Water cycles, our daily water use, and the challenges of wastewater treatment were all on the learning menu.
This combination of updated curriculum and returning faces, mixed in with some fresh student action and learning projects, made for an exciting new season of Know Your Watershed throughout the Columbia Basin. So if you see a community youngster deep in thought at the water fountain, now you know why.