Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
More than three dozen young explorers and their parents, equipped with clipboards and plastic gloves, examine the water quality of Permanente Creek at Heritage Oaks Park.
Mix curious children, a creek and creative monitoring tools together, and a one-of-a-kind World Water Monitoring Challenge ensues.
More than three dozen young explorers and their parents, equipped with clipboards and plastic gloves, examined the water quality of Permanente Creek at Heritage Oaks Park in Los Altos March 16.
“We think the most effective watershed education comes from getting volunteers into the field to work on stewardship projects,” said Joanne McFarlin, a senior ecologist at Acterra who organized the event with GreenTown Los Altos. “Volunteers learn what makes for a healthy creek system while they contribute to making it healthy.”
To demonstrate the conditions in the local watershed, the workday started with an educational “environscape” demonstration that entailed the children littering a miniature model neighborhood with various pollution sources (candy decorations served as car exhaust, toxins and runoff), then simulating rain with water bottles to show how pollutants enter waterways.
Participants trekked to the banks of Permanente Creek, where they rotated through test stations that monitored temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH and turbidity.
Although at times barefoot and immersed knee-deep in creek water as they filled test vials with water, the explorers managed to keep their clipboards dry enough to record the data. During a biomonitoring exercise, children clamored around small trays of water to study the macroinvertebrates (creek bugs) with magnifying glasses.
McFarlin noted that although most of the tests performed during the exercise were primarily for educational purposes, they mirror those of the trained volunteers who regularly record the condition of neighboring Stevens Creek with sophisticated monitoring equipment.
“Our data provides an important supplement to that collected by local agencies,” she said.
This marks the first year Los Altos has participated in the World Water Monitoring Challenge – an international program that encourages the protection of water sources by engaging people in monitoring activities. In 2012, groups and individuals from 66 countries submitted monitoring reports.