Students, snowpack and science

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Living in the Kootenays means we know snow. We shovel it, watch it, talk about it, play in it, and then shovel it some more.

Students at Kimberley’s Selkirk Secondary School added another layer to their winter’s snow experience when they studied the science behind the fluffy flakes, and gained a deeper understanding, and appreciation, for this local watershed.

Know Your Watershed is an education program of the Columbia Basin Trust, administered and delivered by Wildsight. This program leads students down a stream of watershed knowledge, from scientific study to water ecology, to engaging students in stewardship projects.

Students look at snowpack temperatures and depth

Jenn Meens is the outdoor education and geography teacher at Kimberley’s Selkirk Secondary School. She partnered up with Wildsight educator Patty Kolesnichenko to bring this program to her students this year. Often, Know Your Watershed runs in the fall and spring. But with winter sessions, Patty had to get creative.

“We live in a community that’s so impacted by snow,” says Patty. “Whether it be the hydrological cycle (the circulation of water), the tourism industry, businesses — it’s all impacted by our snowpack. So, we decided to do a snow study.”

Students learned about the different layers of snowpack, temperature gradients — how temperature changes in the layers of snow — and the different plants and animals that rely on these varied layers of snow to survive through the winter. They conducted their own snow analysis, looking at how much water is actually in the snow and estimating how much liquid would melt off the school field this spring. The final piece was looking at how snowpack impacts all the water users – like agriculture, municipalities, recreation users, wildlife and plants, and earth systems.

The hope with this program is that students will not only learn about the mechanics of studying water volume, or the process by which a water manager estimates summer water flows, or even how to work out what spring runoff may look like. Patty hopes students will leave with a deeper grasp of how much water conservation and protection plays in our daily lives, that this next generation will be able to come up with creative adaptations to manage this precious resource, and perhaps even plot a path to future career opportunities.

“A lot of the students made connections with their learning to their home lives. They have recreational pursuits in the snow, or their family’s business depends on the winter tourism season, or family members work in fields impacted by climate change,” says Patty. “They see how important it is to have a healthy watershed, and to have an understanding of how we adapt to climate change, because they’re living in it. Even at 14 years old, they see that impact.”

Teacher Jenn Meens says Know Your Watershed was a highlight experience for many of her students. They experienced a mix of activities with both indoor and outdoor learning that connected directly to the core curriculum for Grade 9.

“It is important, especially right now, to engage youth in real learning outside the classroom,” says Jenn. “It gives youth an opportunity to learn about their own community and their impact in that community, its resources, land and the communities around them.”

Students measure snowpack density and water content

The program was a successful collaborative effort, with Patty leading the program, Jenn taking on extension work with her students, and fellow Wildsight educator Dave Quinn conducting some avalanche awareness classes.

“The KYW program, and its amazing educators, make it easy to include in the school curriculum and school day, and it is so valuable to have many adults helping with this learning process,” says Jenn. “Without the Know Your Watershed program, I would not have had the capacity to plan, coordinate, book and facilitate such a deep learning opportunity on top of regular classroom teaching.”

Grade 9 student Maylyn Tarves says Know Your Watershed really opened her eyes: “The Know Your Watershed program showed me just how much we take fresh, clean drinking water for granted.”

Her peer Zoe Belanger agreed: “The KYW program helped me understand how climate change is constantly changing and impacting our lives.”

Please note: As of September 2023, this Columbia Basin Trust program is no longer in operation. Know Your Watershed, a regionally-based watershed education program…Learn more