UI Extension Partners with The Confluence Project
When science and math teacher Matt Pollard led students from Paradise Creek High School to Berman Creekside Park to test the water quality of Paradise Creek near downtown Moscow recently, he did so as part of a University of Idaho Extension effort to promote citizen science.
The class water quality monitoring is part of The Confluence Project, a cooperative effort between the U of I College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and UI Extension’s IDAH2O program, which educates and involves community members in monitoring and caring for public waters.
Six high schools and approximately 200 high school students are participating in The Confluence Project in 2015. The IDAH2O program includes 363 trained Master Water Stewards across Idaho, about a quarter of them K–12 teachers and students.
Program coordinators Mary Engels, a U of I doctoral student studying water resources, and Jyoti Jennewein, a recent U of I master’s degree graduate, accompanied the Moscow students on the outing. Joining them was Meghan Foard, a U of I doctoral student studying environmental science.
As program coordinators, they travel between several schools in the region to help prepare students for the annual Youth Water Summit on April 18-19, 2016, on the U of I’s Moscow campus.
“The goal is to get students out in the field thinking about their local watershed,” Engels said. “Just because they’re high school kids doesn’t mean they’re not scientists.”
Alden Bader, a senior at Paradise Creek High School, helped lead his classmates through the three water quality assessments. As part of his senior project, Bader went through training to become an IDAH20 master water steward. He will play an important role in analyzing the school’s monitoring results to present at the summit.
Bader has committed to join the Army following graduation but said he might be interested in a science field later on.
Aspects of Water Quality
The stream monitoring performed by students includes habitat, physical, chemical and biological assessments.
“Learning the IDAH2O water quality assessment protocol is a good way to teach watershed science to audiences without extensive science backgrounds. And, these valuable water quality data are uploaded, securely stored and made instantly available to the public,” Jim Ekins, IDAH2O program director said.
The habitat assessment took note of the vegetation and general makeup of the streambed to get a sense of its morphology. Pollard said he does a physical and chemical assessment about once a month to monitor the creek’s pH levels. Students used flat nets to catch insects for the biological assessment, which monitored the creek’s health through its animal community.
“This is the cleanest and healthiest I've ever seen the stream in about four years,” Pollard said. He believes the lack of rain has kept fertilizers, sediment and other pollutants from reaching the stream.
Pollard avoids doing a biological assessment more than once a year to avoid harming the health of the stream, but the students will do at least four more physical and chemical tests between now and the summit in April. If heavy rain or snowfall occurs, Pollard plans to herd the students to the stream immediately to take samples.
“These measurements are strong indicators of the health of our watershed,” Pollard said.
The students will partake in two other field trips centered on water quality. One will involve looking at snowpack to evaluate water quantity, and the other will focus on agriculture as the students look at soils and farming operations.