Students squint at turkey basters and squirt water samples into ice cube trays. Others raise handheld microscopes to eye level, peering at tiny life within. Separate teams shake vials, held up to the light to see transforming colours from chemical investigations. It is a whir of activity, with worksheets clutched in hands or scattered on the ground as budding scientists consult and characterize their findings. Banter rolls in comfortable cadence to the work of testing the water and searching for skittering insects, not from a textbook or an in-class experiment, but in the creek that runs through their own town.
This is Know Your Watershed (KYW) in action, a Columbia Basin Trust program administered and delivered by Wildsight for the past 13 years.
Know Your Watershed was created in 2009 to bring watershed literacy to students. We know that residents who understand, value, and are able to adapt to rapidly changing values in community watersheds will help make informed decisions about its future.
A successful pilot year turned into more than a decade of operation. We consistently had waitlists as teachers saw the value in a program that helped classes cover Grade 8 and 9 curriculum with place-based water science, activities, and games through the support of Wildsight’s professional environmental educators.
“The KYW program, and its amazing educators, makes 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 Kimberley teacher Jenn Meens. “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.”
Students consistently loved collecting, sorting, and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates from their local creeks along with testing for variables such as pH, dissolved oxygen, and dissolved nutrients like phosphates and nitrates, and seeing what these tell us about the health of our local waterways. As many teachers, volunteer parents, and community water technicians have stated over the past 13 years: “I wish we had a program like this when I was a kid, and I wish everyone in town got to experience a program like this.”
Often, the in-class learning and field trips were augmented by a Student Action Project. These hands-on projects helped improve or protect water quality in communities across the Basin. Projects included weed pulls and native plant wetland restoration projects, maintaining and monitoring turtle nesting areas, painting the town yellow with fish icons on storm drains to remind everyone that only water should go into these drains as they dump directly into the local creek or lake. Other classes have cleaned up beaches and creeks, built recreation trails, or helped us all learn more about local aquatic nature with wetland interpretive signage projects. Best of all, the projects were dreamed up, designed, planned, and implemented by students, facilitating life-long connections between them and their local water.
In recent years, 15 professional educators delivered nearly 60 Know Your Watershed programs annually in 22 communities across the Basin. More than 10,000 Columbia Basin students from more than 500 classes have met with their local water managers, collected water science data on their local creeks, looked at global and local water issues, explored how climate change is affecting their local watersheds, and partnered with over 40 different community non-profit, water-themed organizations to do hands-on action projects.
From Nakusp to Elkford, Valemount to Creston, and Rossland to Golden, Know Your Watershed programs have helped foster deeper understanding and connections between residents and local issues facing our waterways, including rapidly changing climate variables, wildfire, snowpack variability, and water usage by residents. Know Your Watershed stewardship projects have helped thousands of students understand the importance of water as a shared resource, critical in a clean and wild state by human and wild communities alike.
After 13 delivery seasons, Know Your Watershed wrapped up its final programs across the Basin this past June, due to shifting priorities of the Columbia Basin Trust. Wildsight is grateful for the opportunity to have developed and delivered this important program in partnership with the Trust over the last 13 years. We hope the journey doesn’t end here — creating change is impossible without awareness and connection and we are working hard to envision the next steps of watershed literacy and climate change education for Basin students.
After all, we all live downstream…