A day on the river: Watershed Education Network teaches Victor students the keys to a healthy river system

2010-10-12T20:06:00Z A day on the river: Watershed Education Network teaches Victor students the keys to a healthy river systemBy SEPP JANNOTTA - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic
October 12, 2010 8:06 pm  • 

VICTOR - Ever wonder what a clean, healthy river looks like?

It looks a lot like the Bitterroot River, students from Victor School learned Tuesday after testing water quality with members of the Missoula-based Watershed Education Network.

Josie Lewis, a seventh-grader who loves to swim in the Bitterroot during her summer break, said that's comforting to know.

"Normally I don't think about it," Lewis said. "But it is good to know."

Josh Gubits, an educator with the Watershed Education Network, or WEN, said the students also learned there is more to a healthy river than meets the eye - oxygen and acidity levels, a plentiful and diverse population of insects, and hydrodynamics that have it reconfiguring banks from year to year like the living thing that it is.

That knowledge goes a long way toward bringing river newbies up the learning curve and into the role of river watchdogs, Gubits said.

"We really do think of it as if we're educating the next generation of water stewards," he said. "I think everyone should know what's going on with the river and this is the first step toward that."

To be sure, the students learned a lot during their day on the river.

Lewis said she was amazed at how it clicked for her last year when her sixth-grade class did a water monitoring day with WEN.

"I found it pretty confusing when we talked about this stuff in the classroom," Lewis said. "But we get out here on the river and I get it."

That's certainly a principal point for WEN, which started out as a loose group of volunteers dedicated to introducing students to water science during their spare time.

A breakthrough grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, and 14 years later the group will bring 2,500 students out of the classroom and onto western Montana rivers.

"We think it's always good for teachers when they can get their students out on the river," Gubits said. "And teachers like it because we help by setting up all the work stations."

That has been a big factor in the organization's growth, he said.

"It's tough for teachers to come out to the river and get three (water quality monitoring) stations set up and get their students through them in the span of three hours," Gubits said.

John Arvish, a seventh-grade teacher at Victor School, said when it comes to getting students into the field the group fits the bill perfectly.

"They do a great job putting on these events," he said. "Everything that we can do that is hands-on gets them engaged."

No question the Victor students got themselves some hands-on lessons Tuesday.

The stations were divided up into biological, chemical and physiological stations. At the chemistry station, students took measurements on pH and oxygen levels, while the biological station taught students about a host of aquatic insects, which they seined off the cobbles that line the river bottom. At the physics site, students learned the river's velocity was running about 2.6 feet per second.

Seventh-grader Conner Wilson said he finds the whole outdoor learning experience rewarding.

"I think this is a good experience for kids my age or even younger," he said. "It helps to understand that there's something in the water and actually to get into science and learn that it's fun. It also shows that you can find other things than those that are right in front of your nose."

Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or sjannotta@ravallirepublic.com.


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