Columbia Basin Kids Get Better Acquainted With Their Watersheds

It’s very easy to become disconnected to where our water comes from and what happens once we’re done with it. We turn on our taps and out it comes. We pull the plug and there it goes. But, contrary to what the conveniences of modern life have led us to believe, there’s much more to it than that.

Enter Know Your Watershed. This education program from the Columbia Basin Trust, administered and managed by Wildsight, sees amazing educators visit classrooms for sessions of all things water and takes students on full-day field trips into their local watersheds. Over the course of a few days, students learn first hand how their water gets from the mountains to the faucet—and the return journey down the pipes, through wastewater treatment and back into the water cycle.

And it is not just classroom sessions and field studies getting local youth connected to their watershed. Students from all around the Columbia Basin have been taking their watershed relationship even further by embarking on Student Action Projects and Deep Learning Projects that give back to—and get them more involved with—their very own communities. Here are some snapshots of just a few of the stewardship projects that took place this spring.

You may have seen some new informational art popping up beside stormwater drains around the Basin. The yellow fish are being painted by classrooms to help spread awareness about protecting our waterways by letting locals know that anything that flows into the storm drain flows straight into a local creek, river or lake. Students from Sparwood Secondary School painted 135 yellow trout around their community to remind fellow citizens which drains empty directly into the Elk River.
Students from JV Humphries in Kaslo recently did some deep learning about Kootenay Lake. Marley Bassett, Fish Restoration Biologist from Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, was on hand to share information about her work on Kootenay and Arrow Lakes. The students learned about a new threat to our lakes: the highly invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Students had the opportunity to take samples from Kaslo Bay, which will be sent to a lab to test for the presence of mussels. The lab results will then be made available to the budding new field technicians.


Students from Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley pulled all the knapweed from an area close to the Kimberley Skate Park, near Mark Creek. The students also spread grass seed on the hill to help stabilize the soil and fill in open areas to prevent further weeds from germinating. Altogether, they removed 10 garbage bags full of the invasive plant, developing a real sense of community stewardship and pride in the process. This warm feeling was amplified by all the strangers and neighbours thanking them for their efforts as they passed along the way.
Students at Rossland Summit School created topographic maps—Rossland Today, Climate Change and Utopia—of the Rossland Watershed. The Rossland Today watershed map included the main local streams and required learning about some of the city’s water regulations. For the second map, students had to learn how climate change could alter our watershed and how those ideas would be displayed in a topographic map. And for the Utopia map, the students had to come up with ideas on how we can reduce our water consumption and create new systems for a more sustainable environment.
Students from The Fernie Academy joined an existing Elk River Alliance project to enhance the West Fernie Wetlands by wrapping 35 trees to protect them from the neighbourhood beavers—helping prevent erosion and stabilize the river bank.

“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 this season saw 26 classrooms from around the Columbia Basin—from Valemount to Trail to Sparwood and everywhere in between—doing just that.

This 7th year of Know Your Watershed was one of transition, with the program being updated alongside the revised BC curriculum and moving from Grade 8 to Grade 9. With some students getting a bonus year of watershed knowledge in their second year of the program, the topics were tailored to the individual classroom to avoid repetition. Some students learned about the one big watershed that we all live in—the Columbia River—and the 1964 Columbia River Treaty governing dams on both sides of the border for flood control and power generation. Some students learned, hands-on, 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 menu.

This combination of updated curriculum and returning faces, mixed in with some fresh hands-on action and learning projects, made for an exciting new season of Know Your Watershed throughout the Columbia Basin.