21st Century Kids Take On a 21st Century Problem: Non-Point Source Pollution

posted Aug 3, 2017, 12:48 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Aug 3, 2017, 12:49 PM ]
by Andrea Reiter, Education Specialist, Sustainable Schools Program 

Do you know what non-point source pollution is? How about the effects of non-point source pollution has on water quality? Or that we all are contributing to the problem? La Venture and Mount Baker Middle School students can now help you not only answer these questions having become Young Water Stewards of the Nookachamps Creek and Skagit River. Throughout June and July, 24 Skagit Valley kids studied the Nookachamps Creek watershed and the impacts of non-point source pollution on the health of their stream through RE Sources’ Young Water Stewards Program. In a five-week course, students learned why non-point source pollution is a problem for water quality and the role we all play in non-point source pollution within our watershed. 

The program started out with an insight into the problem – non-point source pollution is being carried into our waterways through surface runoff. NOAA Education Coordinator, Casey Ralston, attended the program one day to show the impacts on aquatic life when exposed to surface runoff that is contaminated with non-point source pollution; NOAA scientists in Seattle exposed salmon to runoff water and 100% of salmon exposed died within 24 hours. In addition to the presence of pollution within our watershed, humans have changed the functionality of the watershed through the increase of impervious surfaces in the form of roads, houses, sports fields, and parking lots. These impervious surfaces do not allow water to infiltrate the soil, instead that water is forced to go into storm drains. The city of Mount Vernon alone has over 5,000 storm drains.

After the students learned about the problem of non-point source pollution affecting the health of our watershed, we set off to test the water quality of the Nookachamps Creek. Through field laboratory kits, students tested the dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, temperature, and the presence of fecal coliform bacteria. When asked what her favorite part of the 5-week program was; Mykila, a Boys & Girls participant stated: "when we went and tested water because it was fun and helped me learn". Half of a day in the field and three test sights later, students discovered that currently the biggest problem with the Nookachamps Creek is temperature and the presence of fecal coliform bacteria.

The following week, we discussed our water quality testing results and introduced the concept of Best Management Practices. Students discussed ways they and other residents of their watershed can reduce the non-point source pollutants in the water. To leave these kids with a sense of empowerment and the ability to solve problems within their community, we completed a few stewardship projects. Students labeled storm drains at La Venture Middle School, the school that the majority of the students will be attending in the fall, picked up trash on a Skagit Land Trust property, mulched native plants, and removed invasive species in a riparian zone along the Nookachamps Creek. "One fact I want to share with others (is) if you see a tree/baby plant put dirt or wood chips around it, so it can grow." Carmella, a Boys & Girls participant, stated during a reflection of our stewardship day.

Originally developed for high school students, the Young Water Stewards curriculum was adapted to middle school level and enhanced with more hands-on activities to engage a summer audience participating in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, & mathematics) summer enhancement program at a 21st Century Community Learning Classroom (21st CCLC) site. 21st CCLC are a nation-wide campaign to provide education and support during non-school hours for children in high poverty and/or low performing school districts. Through a National Marine Sanctuary Foundation grant, RE Sources was able to partner with the Boys and Girls Club of Skagit County (the 21st CCLC Host), NOAA, and the Skagit Land Trust to offer a meaningful watershed educational experience to youth.

Stats:
  • 24 middle school students from Mount Baker and La Venture Middle School in Mount Vernon, WA 
  • 3 Nookachamps Creeks & tributary sites tested for water quality including temperature, turbidity, fecal coliform bacteria, pH, and dissolved oxygen 
  • Storm drains labeled on La Venture Middle School’s campus directly in front of the Boys & Girls Club Clubhouse 
  • 14 hours of watershed education and stewardship for each participant
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