Conservation highlight: White Oak Savanna, West Linn, OR

The outdoors is a classroom. Roaring rivers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and flowering valleys have much to teach about the workings of the world and our place, as humans, within it. Childhood summers spent outside playing, hiking, and camping encourage self-awareness, personal efficacy, and an ethic of care. E. O. Wilson’s work speaks of a subconscious pull that humans feel towards other living things—an innate, biological love of nature he termed biophilia.

Miles Ranch, Livingston, Montana

Miles Ranch, Livingston, Montana

And yet, opportunities for nature-based experiences and learning are becoming less accessible.

Challenges, however, can present new opportunities. The stories of our natural spaces do not have to be heartbreaking. How about heartwarming instead? Encouraging? Inspiring? Living testament to the kindness of humankind? One such story is right in Portland’s backyard.

Over ten years ago, West Linn residents Ed and Roberta Schwarz discovered that a tower of Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) in a deserted chunk of their neighborhood blocked a sweeping view of the Willamette Narrows. That 20-acre stretch between Salamo Road, Tannler Drive, and Blankenship Road is a White Oak Savanna. Over one hundred years ago, the Valley was covered with White Oak, also called Garry Oak (Quercus garryana). Today, it is estimated that less than two percent remains. So when Ed and Roberta discovered their hidden hiking oasis was slated for development, they decided to do something about it.

Oregon iris (<i>Iris tenax</i>)

Oregon iris (Iris tenax). Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

Roberta has championed the effort to save the White Oak Savanna for over a decade now by rallying support throughout the greater Portland Metro community. Her goal? To make the White Oak Savanna into a public natural park and wildlife habitat. The upper 14 acres have been restored and preserved with matching fund grants received in 2009 from the City of West Linn, Oregon State Parks, and Portland Metro. The White Oak Savanna has benefited from over 6,800 volunteer hours stemming from a variety of individuals and organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school and primary students from several schools, church groups, the Northwest Youth Corps, neighborhood organizations, and SOLVE. Most recently, the Schwarz’s dining room table was covered with materials for sending out 10,700 mailings to community residents and businesses in a fundraising effort to match Portland Metro’s second Nature in Neighborhood grant. The $500k grant, awarded this time in 2013, must be matched two-to-one—that’s right, they need to raise $1M by mid-2015 to seal the deal and they are right on track to achieving it. Over two dozen fundraisers are planned for 2014. Metro’s grant and the matching funds will provide the means to purchase the remaining six acres of the savanna for conservation, ultimately preserving habitat that supports hundreds of species—deer, ferns, and humans alike.

The While Oak Savanna in West Linn, OR

The While Oak Savanna in West Linn, OR. Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

You read that correctly, humans. Homo sapiens sapiens. We do, after all, rely on Earth’s ecosystems for our own survival. We inhabit the earth. And there is something cardinal about the physical immersion of ourselves in nature that research is just beginning to capture. Take Dr. Geoffrey Donovan’s research that found a correlation between healthier birth weights with increased access to trees even after accounting for other differences such as socioeconomic status. Or the German biological studies led by neuroscientist Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg that compare the mental health and stress of people living in rural, amenity rich areas compared to those in our cities. Richard Louv focuses on the connection between childhood obesity rates and outdoor play. Then there is Dr. Todd Rosenstiel’s research into the benefits that lichens have on decreasing asthma rates. Google some form of “health benefits of nature” and you will find countless more examples. It all points to what our bodies already know: access to the outdoors is fundamental to our well-being. There is no substitute, no nature pill we can take as a replacement.

View looking down at the Willamette Narrows from the White Oak Savanna after a recent snowfall.

View looking down at the Willamette Narrows from the White Oak Savanna after a recent snowfall. Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

Health impacts aside, being outdoors is fun! A visitor to the White Oak Savanna can hike the meandering one-mile round trip trail, swing on one of the tree swings, absorb the vistas from one of the ten benches (made of reclaimed wood), listen to the birdsong from one of the over 75 avian species, and witness a deer bound through the grass. With the recent snowfall, an adventurer can add snow-play onto the long list of possibilities.

It goes without saying that the White Oak Savanna is a gift. Roberta and those she has mobilized around the savanna have acceded to the role of stewards of the land. They have accepted the responsibility for its care amongst the hustle and bustle of urban living. With the restoration, they have not only saved a wild place from being paved—their theme song is fittingly Joni Mitchel’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (re: “…they paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”)—they have strengthened the community around it. They are loving and caring for the land. They have planted trees under whose shade they might not ever rest. The story of the White Oak Savanna is one of a challenge-turned-opportunity. It is community-based and it is just getting started.

Indeed, sometimes the gifts we tend to overlook most often are the ones that grow when shared.

The While Oak Savanna is waiting to be explored.

The While Oak Savanna is waiting to be explored.

Project WET, Preschool, and a Summer Sign-off

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It’s difficult to believe that I’m already on to my last post as a summer intern at the Project WET Foundation. I have so much to be thankful for—more on that in a moment—including a very fitting close to my time here. Yesterday, Katie, Nicole, and I were able to visit Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT, to help the students through a fun and interactive water-based activity.

Project WET has a “mission of reaching children, parents, teachers, and community members of the world with water education.” They do so through a combination of science-based strategies, including:

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  • publishing water resource materials
  • training workshops that focus on a wide range of water topics
  • building a global network of educators, scientists, and water resource professionals
  • organizing community water events

Most of Project WET’s material is geared toward elementary and secondary school students—an age group with which Project WET has found much success in making a significant impact. But there are other critical periods in a child’s educational life, and Project WET recognizes this. For some time now, Dennis and the rest of the Project WET crew have had their eye on expanding materials to preschool-age children. I wrote on the importance of early childhood environmental education in a previous post; in summary, the early childhood years are an important time in development and thus education. However, not surprisingly, the biggest limiting factor holding Project WET back from producing preschool-aged materials—such as Little KIDs Activity Booklets—is funding.

Funding aside, our experiences with both Pilgrim Preschool and the younger age group in general speak well to Project WET’s ability to translate its materials into an approachable format for 2 ½ to 5 year olds. Katie, Nicole, and I used the “The Rainstick” with the preschoolers to explore water and its importance in our lives. The activity covered factual, scientific, and cultural information about rainsticks, how to build them, and a story that illustrates how water is life. Here’s what some of the children had to say during the activity:

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  • “Desert? How do you live without water?”
  • “We drink water!”
  • “Water is used to wash.”
  • “A small apple floats in water but apple seeds sink.”
  • “You can’t make a rainstick from paper, it needs to be hard!”

If it wasn’t obvious from the children’s comments, the preschoolers were engaged in the activity and had a blast. They shared many stories and insights about water and listened carefully to the story of a boy who discovered how to capture the sound of rain. Many children made comments similar to the one about apples and apple seeds—turns out early this week they learned about sinking and floating (so they listen!) We wrapped up the activity by working together and using their newly-crafted rainsticks to make a rainstorm and build up to a thunderstorm. Some of the parents were even there to listen. It was one of the most joyful rainstorms I’ve been part of!

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While at the preschool, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that this is what it’s about. Teaching children about water and leaving with new lessons of our own. Learning is not unidirectional, but a continual dialog that perpetuates and feeds itself. Learning is contagious. And the preschoolers’ enthusiasm and interest was contagious indeed.

I think the experience at Pilgrim Preschool is an illustrative example of the importance of Project WET’s work. One of my earlier posts discussed why we ought to care to conserve water and why we ought to act on that calling. This is one significant reason why: children of today, tomorrow, and the distant future. Their curiosity and wonder are interwoven with their actions. Education at a young age propagates through the child and into the future as she or he grows up and into adulthood. And what wonderful seeds to plant at a young age—seeds of curiosity and wonder, kindness and love.


Source: Animator Frédéric Back.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to be part of the Project WET Foundation this summer. Project WET has provided an avenue for translating my education into a meaningful and measurable impact. Knowledge in itself is a worthwhile endeavor, but when we can use our education for the betterment of society—in however big or small of way—education becomes lasting. In a way it’s like author Nelson Henderson’s insight: The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. We may never again see (or see in the first place) the children reached by Project WET, but the impacts are lasting and real. And I think that’s what strikes me the most about my experiences with Project WET—the working endlessly to make a difference in lives of people we may never meet. For Project WET, that is done through worldwide water education. It varies in the how, but each of us has the power to make an impact in our own ways.

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I want to thank the entire Project WET staff for welcoming me so graciously into this family and for sharing all the valuable experiences over the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed my work, which included:

  • contributing content to and reviewing Project WET materials for publication
  • authoring weekly science-based and reflective blog posts (like this one!) covering various water-focused topics
  • researching and composing executive summaries on topics as background for publications and proposals
  • developing funding proposals and identifying potential funders for future Project WET materials

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School and basketball both start up again shortly, and there’s much to look forward to in the upcoming year. I can’t commit to the weekly posts I’ve been writing during the summer, but I do plan on continuing to post when I find the time and inspiration on my website. I anticipate continuing to write about water-related topics, as well as other natural resource topics, basketball, and life in general.

With that, I bid adieu for now to Bozeman and this wonderful summer working at Project WET. I offer the following perspective in my wake: When in doubt, make tea.

Bringing the Outdoors In

Last week I discussed the role of early childhood education, particularly regarding environmental perception and action. At one point I mentioned strategies for bringing the outdoors inside the classroom as a way of extending experiences with the natural environment indoors. What I didn’t mention is that my mother is the Director and Lead Teacher at Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT. The program focuses on development of the whole child through experiences in social studies, science, language arts, math, music, and art. I’ve had the delightful fortune of visiting Pilgrim Preschool periodically throughout my adolescence and young adult life. The children are nothing short of entertaining and I always seem to walk away having learned something new.

(Click to Enlarge)The Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

Last summer my mother and I had the idea to paint some of the preschool furniture with plants and animals as a way to brighten up the classroom and bring some natural elements indoors. After some brainstorming, we agreed that I would revive an adorable set of 6 (miniature) wooden chairs by painting them. We started last summer by painting over the original red with a beautiful sky blue. I then made plans to throw a little education in with the art and nature elements by painting one of Montana’s State Symbols on each of the chairs. I settled on using the Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

I figured using state symbols was a simple means to bring part of nature into the classroom in a way rooted in the local landscape. As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, effective and lasting education is most powerful when it speaks to people’s circumstance. And when environmental education is focused locally, it becomes more relevant to a child’s everyday life (Ballantyne et al., 2001; Duvall & Zint, 2007; Zampas, 2011). It is thus my hope with this project that even at a scale as small as furniture in a classroom, a little daily exposure to Montana’s State Symbols just might encourage further exploration into what’s beyond the classroom walls.

Ponderosa Pine
(Pinus ponderosa)

Bitterroot
(Lewisia rediviva)

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
(Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi)

Grizzly Bear
(Ursus arctos horribilis)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
(Nymphalis antiopa)

Western Meadowlark
(Sturnella neglecta)

Of course, life moving like it does, it took until this summer for me to actually sit down and do the painting (hence the occasional chips in some of the chairs’ base coats). This past Labor Day weekend provided the perfect opportunity. The whole process took a decent number of hours, so I had ample time to listen to music (found some great new albums) and think. Not surprisingly, I mulled over the whole business of state symbols and what prompted them in the first place.

So I did some digging around.

State Symbols connect the history and culture of a state. They range in categories from land- and resource-centric symbols like those used for the chairs to tradition- and story-centric symbols like State Dance and State Pre-Historic Artifact. Declarations of state symbols, including what categories they cover, is up to the states to decide. Thus, each state has its own unique list of categories for state symbols. Some examples I found surprising:

  • Montana’s State Lullaby: creatively called, “Montana Lullaby,” we have a State Song and State Ballad, too—cowboys and girls like to sing!
  • Oregon’s State Parents: Pioneers Tabitha Moffatt Brown and Dr. John McLoughlin’s aid in the early settlement of the state was enough for this designation.
  • California’s State Folk Dance: dates back to the “Gold Rush Days” when Square Dancing wasn’s the thing to do.
  • Nebraska’s State Beverage: inventing a popular drink can get you a state symbol designation, as Kool-Aid learned following its invention in 1927 in Hastings, NE.
  • Oklahoma’s State Menu Items: there are eleven of them. Buffet time!
  • Alabama’s State Outdoor Musical Drama: The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a historically-inspired drama that takes place in Civil War-era Alabama.

The plethora of state symbols—many of which are a bit obscure and quite specific—speak to the way our country holds on to tradition and unity through a shared, but diverse heritage. They provide a way to identify with a place culturally, physically, historically, or otherwise. While it can easily seem silly to tie such significance to a thing, I would argue it’s more about the connections made through such things.

If it takes a state symbol to get a child interested in the fish swimming through our rivers, then bring on the wading boots. If a person is inspired to learn more about their family history from a state historical symbol, then call up grandma. I guess what I’m trying to say is that each of us has our own path to the things we care about and love and desire to protect. The important thing is getting to that point—and acting on that desire.

Works Cited

  • Ballantyne, R., Fien, J., & Packer, J. (2001). Program effectiveness in facilitating intergenerational influence in environmental education: Lessons from the field. The Journal of Environmental Education, 32(4), 8.
  • Duvall, J., & Zint, M. (2007). A review of research on the effectiveness of environmental education in promoting intergenerational learning. The Journal of Environmental Education, 38(4), 12.
  • Zampas, G. (2011). The role of education for sustainable development in families’ sustainable consumption. Paper presented at the Global Vision, Local Action: Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship, Bournemouth, U.K.

 

Early Childhood Environmental Education

Source: Sharing Nature Worldwide.

For the child […], it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow […] It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.—Rachel Carson, “Help Your Child to Wonder” (1956)

Source: The Season of Rachel Carson.

In my senior year at Oregon State University, I came across a book by Rachel Carson (1907-1964) called The Sense of Wonder (1965). Originally published in Woman’s Home Companion magazine under the title, “Helping Your Child to Wonder” (1956), the work speaks beautifully to the value of early childhood experiences in nature. The piece turned into the inspiration for my undergraduate honors thesis titled, “Our Natural Family: A study of young children and how we connect with nature.”

As schools nationwide begin to reopen after summer break this week, I found myself revisiting the idea of early childhood environmental education while I helped my mom prepare for another year teaching at Bozeman’s Pilgrim Preschool.

It is important to first distinguish what I mean by early childhood environmental education (ECEE). In this context, early childhood refers to the preschool years typically populated by 2 &frac12; to 5 year olds. Environmental education does not necessarily mean education in formal sense with a teacher, students, and lesson plans (although it certainly can mean this). At the young age of 2 &frac12; to 5 years, environmental education is more responsive to the needs and developmental level when it is focused more on play, discovery, and exploration rather than formal instruction (Armitage, 2007; Boyle, 2006; Edwards & Cutter-Mackenzie, 2006; White, 2006). I use the term more generally to represent experiences with and exposure to the outdoors. Environmental education in this sense includes Rachel Carson’s description of adults sharing a sense of wonder with children:

Source: Monkey Business Images.

And with your child you can ponder the mystery of a growing seed, even if it be only planted in a pot of earth in the kitchen window.—Rachel Carson, “Help Your Child to Wonder” (1956)

Therefore, ECEE captures that critical time before elementary school when children—arguably the most in touch with their natural roots—not only exist in their most impressionable states of being but are also powerful agents of change (Wilson, 1996). The early years of childhood are when most people develop their phobias of and their affections for the natural world (Louv, 2007). Many of the current models of child development suggest a connection between a child’s experiences and the development of their attitudes and way of understanding the world around them. Children, especially young children, learn by hands on experience through which they actively construct their knowledge base (Bandura, 1977; Dewey, 1938; Nye, 1986; Piaget, 1947; Vygotskiĭ, 1998).

Source: Sharing Nature Worldwide.

ECEE can be an opportunity to expose children to the natural world in a way that will encourage positive interaction between the child and their environment through hands on experiences. A caring parent and/or educator can help guide a child towards positive and beneficial attitudes and ways of thinking about nature (Robertson, 2008).

The traditional “Western/European” approach to learning, however, tends to separate children from nature both physically and psychologically. Urban children consequently tend to fear wildland places and feel uncomfortable when surrounded by natural elements (Wilson, 2006). On the other hand, children who consistently experience nature tend to develop more positive attitudes and actions towards it (Wilson, 2006). Reinforcement of nature-based experiences over time is key to fostering positive relationships between children and nature (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). This is evidenced in how many adults with a positive connection to nature can associate it with their childhood experiences.

Source: Orion Magazine.

Early childhood experiences with nature have been linked with the development of creativity, wonder, and imagination and in turn help foster a life-long love of the natural world (Cohen, 1984; Devall, 1984/85; Raglan, 1993; Sebba, 1991; Tanner, 1980; Wilson, 2006). Furthermore, childhood encounters with natural places, such as a forest, have been shown to positively correlate with the individual’s later patterns of use and attitudes towards such places as an adult (Thompson, Peter, & Montarzino, 2008). To encourage such lasting development, children should be provided with consistent access to natural places (which can be a park, urban garden, or even a potted plant in cities), encouraged in natural play activities, and their ways of knowing—which are more rooted in experience than an that of an adult—respected (Wilson, 2007).

Today, however, children are playing outside less and are increasingly disconnected with nature (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010). Richard Louv’s (2007) research on nature-deficit disorder helps establish the importance of nature in the lives of children by connecting the increasing lack of nature in today’s technologically driven generation with many serious and rising childhood issues such as obesity, depression, and attention disorders (Louv, 2005). As more and more land is developed, not only is natural habitat destroyed, but communities also tend to be erected in ways that deter any real contact with nature. This, in combination with several other societal factors such as the rising popularity of video games, is discouraging early childhood experiences in nature (Louv, 2007). The current generation of young children’s physical contact and intimacy with nature is fading; such is the premise of nature-deficit disorder.

But we have the opportunity to alter this course—and there are several great examples out there of ECEE in practice:

So there are examples and success stories of ECEE taking form and action. In fact, the Project WET Foundation has had plans to expand its Kids In Discovery series (KIDs) activity booklets to include Little KIDs activity booklets for preschool-age children (funding is, not surprisingly, the roadblock). As programs like those highlighted in this post grow in popularity, I look forward to environmental educations programs becoming a normal part of school curriculums, rather than the exception.

Source: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning.

Works Cited

  • Armitage, K. C. (2007). ‘The Child is Born a Naturalist’: Nature Study, Woodcraft Indian, and the Theory of Recapitulation. Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 6 (1), 43-70.
  • Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Boyle, L. (2006). Environmental Experiences in Child Care. Putting Children First (19), 14-17.
  • Cohen, M. J. (1984). Prejudice Against Nature. Freeport, Maine: Cobblesmith.
  • Devall, W. (1984/85). A Sense of Earth Wisdom. Journal of Environmental Education, 16 (2), 1-3.
  • Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
  • Edwards, S., & Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (2006). Chapter 19: Eco-Literacy and the Content-Pedagogy Relationship in Early Childhood Education. Sharing wisdom for our future, 170-177.
  • Hungerford, H. R., & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing Learner Behavior Through Environmental Education. Journal of Environmental Education, 21 (3), 8-21.
  • Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
  • Louv, R. (2007, March/April). Leave No Child Inside. Orion Magazine.
  • Nye, R. D. (1986). Three psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers. Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
  • Piaget, J. (1947). The psychology of intelligence; translated. [Psychologie de l'intelligence]. London: Psychology Press.
  • Raglan, R. (1993). Reading the World: Overt and Covert Learning in Environmental Writing for Children. Journal of Environmental Education, 24 (4), 4-7.
  • Robertson, J. S. (2008). Forming Preschoolers’ Environmental Attitude: Lasting Effects of Early Childhood Environmental Education. Thesis.
  • Sebba, R. (1991). The Landscapes of Childhood: The Reflection of Childhood’s Environment in Adult Memories and in Children’s Attitudes. Environment and Behavior, 23 (4), 395-422.
  • Tanner, T. (1980). Significant Life Experience: A New Research Area in Environmental Education. Journal of Environmental Education, 11 (4), 20-24.
  • Thompson, C. W., Peter, A., & Montarzino, A. (2008). The Childhood Factor: Adult Visits to Green Places and the Significance of Childhood Experience. Environment and Behavior, 40 (1), 111-143.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2010, April 26). Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved July 12, 2010 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson/aboutus.html.
  • Vygotskiĭ, L. S. (1998). The Problem of Age. In The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky: Child psychology (Vol. 5, pp. 187-205). New York: Springer Publishing.
  • White, R. (2006). Young Children’s Relatinship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development and the Earth’s Future. Taproot, 16 (2).
  • Wilson, R. A. (2006, Summer). Environmental Education: Bringing the Outdoors In. Day Care and Early Education, 32-34.
  • Wilson, R. A. (1996). The Development of the Ecological Self. Early Childhood Environmental Education Journal, 24 (2), 121-132.
  • Wilson, R. A. (2007). The Wonders of Nature: Honoring Children’s Ways of Knowing. Early Childhood News.

Source Water Profile: Bozeman, MT

Last week when I was in Santa Barbara, CA, I focused my post on the area’s source water. The natural follow-up is a source water profile of Bozeman, MT.

Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

Bozeman is in the 2,602 sq. mi. Gallatin County, which sits in a scenic valley at the heart of the Rocky Mountains and intersects seven watersheds. The City of Bozeman itself intersects three: the Madison Watershed 10020007 (left highlighted section on map of MT right), the Gallatin Watershed 10020008 (middle highlighted section on map of MT right), and the Upper Yellowstone Watershed 10070002 (right highlighted section on map of MT right).

As explained last week, watershed proper names are followed by a hierarchical string of numbers ranging from 2 to 16 digits called a Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC). HUCs describe the location and identification of a hydrologic area and come from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) nationwide system for watershed delineation based on surface hydrologic features. Anyone in the U.S. can look up their watershed address using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) online tool for locating and defining watershed addresses.

Bozeman’s water profile can be examined by first establishing “what’s in” and “what’s out”. That is, the people served by the City of Bozeman’s public water supply system (PWS) have different source water than those people outside of city limits. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Public Water Supply Online Query, the City of Bozeman’s water system serves 32,000 people. These 32,000 residents receive their water from three sources: Hyalite Creek, Sourdough Creek, and Lyman Creek.

Source: Personal correspondence with City of Bozeman Water
Treatment Plant Operator
. Credit: RJ Zaworski.

Both Hyalite Creek (51 sq. mi. drainage area) and Sourdough Creek (33 sq. mi. drainage area) are surface water sources and combine for 80% of the City of Bozeman’s water supply source (40% each; see graphic left). Hyalite Reservoir—also known as Middle Creek Reservoir and constructed in the late 1940s before being expanded in 1993—stores water from Hyalite Creek for current and future use. The reservoir is just over 10 miles up Hyalite Canyon and is a popular recreation area for campers, hikers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Sourdough Creek water has not been stored in a reservoir since Mystic Lake Dam breached and was torn down in 1985. Instead, the City of Bozeman’s water system extracts creek water directly from the watershed in Sourdough Canyon. Recent discussions have proposed building a new dam and reservoir on Sourdough Creek to prepare for the growing city’s future water needs.

Lyman Creek, on the other hand, is a groundwater source and accounts for the remaining 20% of the City of Bozeman’s water supply. The creek is located in the southern foothills of the Bridger Mountain range. Unlike Sourdough and Hyalite Creeks, Lyman Creek water is extracted from a fully enclosed spring and is thus classified as groundwater.

These three water sources supply the 32,000 people connected to City of Bozeman’s PWS. But there are about 91,000 (2011 census estimate) residents of Gallatin County. The almost 60,000 Gallatin residents outside the City of Bozeman get their water from groundwater. Other Gallatin County towns—like Belgrade, Three Forks, and Manhattan—have PWSs that rely on groundwater sources. Some use freshwater springs in their supplies, but these are still categorized as a groundwater source for the same reason Lyman Creek is groundwater. In fact, the City of Bozeman is the only PWS in Gallatin County that includes water from true surface water sources.

Finally, the remaining 41,000 (2011 estimate calculated from Montana DEQ’s Active PWS System Data report) Gallatin County residents not connected to established city and towns PWS systems* receive their water through one of two main sources: through a privately-owned well or through a small PWS system.

Source: Personal correspondence with Gallatin Local Water
Quality District Manager and Water Quality Specialist
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Credit: RJ Zaworski.

Whether or not a well is privately owned or is classified, licensed, and monitored as a PWS under DEQ hinges on three factors (see chart left): connections, people, and days used. A well must be registered as a PWS if it has 15+ connections and/or serves 25+ people—the PWS must also operate under these conditions for at least 60 days of the year. If a well does not meet these requirements, it is a privately owned well. The distinction between PWSs and private wells matter regarding how they are regulated.

PWSs range in size from the large ones operated by cities to the small ones operated by entities like campgrounds and trailer courts. PWSs are classified into three types:

  • community (C): serves 15+ connections year-round or 25+ people year-round—simply put, it serves the same people every day. e.g., cities and subdivisions
  • non-transient non-community (NTNC): not a community system but serves 25+ of the same people over six months a year—simply put, it serves the same people but not every day. e.g., schools and workplaces
  • transient non-community (TNC): not a community system and does not serve 25+ of the same people over six months a year—simply put, it serves different people every day. e.g., restaurants and motels

    PWS laws and rules can vary depending on its classification.

    Finally, those remaining Gallatin County residents not on any sort of PWS are on privately-owned wells. In stark contrast to PWSs, private wells are not under any regulation from the DEQ. This means water quality testing and monitoring is not required and instead left to the owner’s discretion. While most wells are deep and new enough to likely produce un-contaminated water, some private wells are old and shallow. In either case, it is important private well owners test their water for contamination, which can come in many forms. When a well is deep enough, the groundwater it produces tends to be of good quality—water in Gallatin county rarely has even trace amounts of contaminants like heavy metals and chemicals.

    The risk usually occurs when the well structure (e.g., a well cap) is old or failing and when a well is not dug deep enough. Unfit well structures can leave the water vulnerable to contamination by harmful bacteria, pathogens, and animals. Shallow wells have less opportunity and time to filter out surface water contaminants that seep down into the well. The best way to find out if a private well falls into either of these categories it through water sample testing.

    The Gallatin Local Water Quality District website provides an extensive library of resources for private well owners. The site offers a long list of useful Fact Sheets that cover topics ranging from bacterial contamination in wells to water sampling procedures. The site is scattered with tips about wells, procedures, and tools. There are also directions for testing drinking water quality. Owners can receive discounts on drinking water testing by participating in the Well Educated Program—a program in partnership with the MSU Extension Water Quality Program . MSU Extension also has educational videos for individual well and septic users. And, if online resources still leave questions unanswered or concerns unresolved, give the staff at theGallatin Local Water Quality District a call or email— they are very friendly and helpful.

    (Click to Enlarge) Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    Whether a resident of the City of Bozeman, Big Sky, or other places in Gallatin County, your water comes from either groundwater or surface water. Water is collected, stored, transported, treated, distributed, and recovered through a system of water infrastructure (see graphic above). Water connects us all and is the lifeblood for society. The next time we turn on the tap, remember there is a long, organized water system working to ensure not just the availability of water but its quality as well.

    Where does your water come from?

    Special thanks to RJ Zaworski for providing the wonderful graphics for today’s post.

    *note: the 41,000 estimate was calculated from Montana DEQ’s Active PWS System Data report. The report lists all active registered PWSs in Gallatin County. Only a few cities and towns actually have an established “Town of/City of” PWS—Bozeman (32,000), Belgrade (7,000), Manhattan (1,500), Three Forks (1,800), and West Yellowstone (8,535). The remaining towns and settlements in Gallatin County are supported by a series of smaller PWSs operated by various entities ranging from school districts and subdivisions to ranches and gas stations. Numbers estimates are based on the populations served by each PWS in the DEQ report. For example, the City of Belgrade lists a population of 7,000 connected to their PWS. The rest of Belgrade residents either rely on smaller PWSs or private wells (described in blog text).

    Source Water Profile: Santa Barbara County, CA

    For the past week and a half I have been in Santa Barbara, CA, getting to know my new UCSB basketball teammates (freshmen!) and working out with the team as a whole. As the time approaches for me to return to Bozeman and complete my summer internship at the Project WET Foundation, I decided it would be interesting to profile Santa Barbara County’s source water system. At Project WET Foundation, this type of information contributes to a “water address.”

    Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an online tool for locating and defining a watershed address. The address consists of a watershed’s proper name and Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC)—a hierarchical string of numbers ranging from 2 to 16 digits that describes the location and identification of a hydrologic area. HUCs come from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which has a nationwide system for watershed delineation based on surface hydrologic features.

    Santa Barbara’s source water profile consists of multiple watersheds, namely the Santa Ynez Watershed 18060010 (northern highlighted watershed on map of CA on right) and the Santa Barbara Coastal Watershed 18060013 (southern highlighted watershed on map of CA on right).

    The story doesn’t end there, however. Within each watershed are a variety of sources that comprise a water profile. Santa Barbara County as a whole has a diverse portfolio of water sources that vary by city. For brevity, consider the two cities most directly relevant to UCSB: Goleta (pop. 30,000, 2011) and Santa Barbara (pop. 89,000, 2011).

    Source: “Where Does Your Water Come From?” Credit: RJ Zaworski.

    Goleta has a relatively simple water source portfolio (left). The city gets its water from two sources: Cachuma Lake (93%) and recycled water (7%). In 1953, the federal government funded construction of the Bradbury Dam on the Santa Ynez River. Cachuma Lake rose behind the dam to become Santa Barbara County’s largest reservoir. Tecolote Tunnel stretches about 6.4 miles through the Santa Ynez Mountains and diverts Lake Cachuma water for human use.

    Recycled water is municipal wastewater reclaimed and treated to remove sediments and impurities so it can be reused. This water source is quickly gaining popularity—particularly in urban areas—in large part because it is a local, drought-resistant water supply that helps reduce reliance on groundwater and surface water. Education about the advantages of using recycled water is helping diminish stigmas that have historically limited its use. Goleta uses recycled water for landscaping at some parks, schools, and commercial properties.

    Santa Barbara, on the other hand, has a mix of all five currently active county sources: groundwater (9%), Cachuma Lake (52%), local streams and reservoirs (28%), State Water Project (“SWP”, 6%), and recycled water (5%). Santa Barbara uses Cachuma Lake water and recycled water in much the same was as Goleta. However, with a population almost three times that of Goleta, Santa Barbara uses three additional sources of water. (note: Santa Barbara’s Charles Meyer Desalination Facility, built in 1991-1992 in response to severe drought, is now in long-term storage mode but can be reactivated if needed).

    Source: “Where Does Your Water Come From?” Credit: RJ Zaworski.

    Groundwater is mostly self-explanatory—it is the water accumulated underground in spaces between clay, silt, sand, and gravel that forms aquifers. Groundwater is replenished at various rates (can range from a few days to centuries) as precipitation infiltrates the ground and accumulates above some impermeable layer. Although not the major source of water for Santa Barbara or Goleta, the county as a whole relies on it for almost 75% of total water use.

    Local streams and reservoirs represent the area’s usable surface water, including manmade water stored behind reservoirs and diversion dams. Managing water supply can reduce flood and drought risks because stream flow is stored until needed. Reservoirs can also help replenish groundwater.

    The State Water Project—conceptualized in 1919 and funded in 1960—diverts water from Northern California rivers through the California Bay-Delta and into the San Joaquin Valley. The SWP consists of over 700 miles of canals and pipelines, 34 storage facilities, and can store 5.8 million acre-feet of water. Diverted water is used for agriculture and pumped throughout Southern California for use by over 25 million Californians.

    (Click to Enlarge) Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    Whether a resident of Goleta, Santa Barbara, or other cities in Santa Barbara County, your water comes from one of these five described sources. Water is collected, stored, transported, treated, distributed, and recovered through a system of water infrastructure (see graphic above). Water connects us all and is the lifeblood for society. The next time we turn on the tap, remember there is a long, organized water system working to ensure not just the availability of water but its quality as well.

    Where does your water come from?

    Special thanks to RJ Zaworski for providing the wonderful graphics for today’s post.

    Alien Invasion

    The term invasive species conjures up some pretty graphic images of what exactly an invasive species might look like. It’s probably huge, armored and equipped with giant teeth. Chances are it’s highly adaptive and overpowers its native competition without any natural enemies—predators, herbivores, parasites, diseases, parasitoids etc.—to keep it in check.

    In no time, biodiversity is plummeting, populations are destabilizing and ecosystem functioning is at risk. The image reminds me of those awful sci-fi invasion movies (e.g., Battlefield Earth and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) in which the aliens invade earth and wreck havoc on its inhabitants. But the alien invasion image is not quite an accurate representation of invasive species in real life.

    Image Credit: Blog post, “How to Survive Alien Invasion Novels”.

    In sci-fi alien invasion movies, the “good” side (us) and “bad” side (them) tend to be clearly defined. Extraterrestrial life invades Earth with the inevitable goals of exterminating human life, taking over the planet, harvesting humans for food or labor and stealing natural resources. The lines are well defined: the extraterrestrials are the bad guys and the humans are the good guys.

    Invasions in Earth’s natural ecosystems are less straightforward. Invasive speciess leave evidence of their passing, but the term invasive means nothing more than that the species is spreading and outcompeting other species on a wide scale. A native species can do that just as a non-native species can. Therefore, most definitions of an invasive species focus on its origin—exotic, alien, non-native, non-indigenous and introduced to name a few. Invasive species tends to have a negative connotations hinging on the implication that its introduciton will lead to a harmful or undesirable outcome. For the purposes of this discussion, I will discuss invasive species as non-native species that outcompete others with undesirable results.

    For example, one of the “hot” invasive species of the day is the quagga mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis), a cousin of the better-known zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Where quagga and zebra mussels are both established, however, quagga outcompete the zebra mussels because they can colonize at greater depth and at a wider temperature range. This suggests quagga may pose an even more serious threat than zebra mussels.

    Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey. Quagga Gallery.

    Both quagga and zebra mussels are native to Eastern Europe and tend to be detrimental to ecosystems in which they are introduced. They clog infrastructure and spoil recreational opportunities. They outcompete natives for food and resources. Cascading effects up the food chain can follow as the amphipod populations fish rely on for food collapse. Other ecosystem effects tied to Quagga muscle invasions include avian botulism outbreaks; elevated bioaccumulation of contaminants; and increased water acidity coupled with decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations.

    Image Credit: New York Sea Grant. Aquatic Invasive Species, Zebra and Quagga Mussels.

    Mussel outbreaks damage human infrastructure, as well. They congest water structures (e.g. pipes, screens) and increase maintenance costs. They accumulate on docks, buoys, anchors, beaches and boat hulls, disrupting recreation. Sharp mussel shells can cut people, necessitating shoes while walking on beaches and rocks. Finally, mussels attached to boat hulls can increase drag, clog engines, distress boat steering, and ultimately lead to engine malfunctions and overheating.

    Quagga were initially found in the US Great Lakes in 1989 and are now established in Nevada (2007) and California (2008). They spread mainly on the hulls of improperly cleaned boats. Inspection efforts at and near both infected and non-infected water bodies attempt to slow the invasive mussel’s spread, but it can be difficult to detect infested boats as the mussels can be nearly invisible to the human eye. A recent discovery of a common soil bacterium—Pseudomonas fluorescens—that kills quagga and zebra mussels but harms no other organisms offers one potential source of control. EPA has approved certain uses of the biocontrol agent, but its full release is contingent on state approval.

    Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, April 2011.

    Quagga mussels are no doubt a striking example of invasive species in earth’s natural system. But the invasion is not like those depicted in sci-fi movies. We can’t simply band together as the “good” side against the “bad” mussels. It’s more complicated because the mussels are just doing what they can to survive and thrive to the best of their ability. They did not maliciously invade the Great Lakes, nor did the human boaters who acted as vectors in the spread do so intentionally. So how can we respond to invasive species?

    The obvious answer is to slow their spread through education and regulation. Once established, we can try to eradicate. There are countless techniques around to address these, with varying degrees of success. But it all comes back to awareness and education—the starting point for action.

    Sources:

    “Greening” Urban Waters

    In May 2007, the world reached a tipping point. We entered the “Urban Millennium,” which marked the first time more of the world’s population lived in urban areas than in rural ones. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates the next milestone—two-thirds—will occur in 2050 when 68.7% of Earth’s population is expected to reside in urban areas. This is a significant increase from the 50.5% living in urban areas in 2010 and represents an additional 3 billion urban dwellers by 2050. The United States adheres to the projected increase as well: the 82.3 % of U.S. urban dwellers in 2010 is expected to rise to 90.4 % by 2050 (Minne et al., 2011). All regions of the world—illustrated in the UN image below—follow this projection.

    World Urbanization

    Image credit: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: World Urbanization Prospects, the 2011 Revision. New York, 2012.

    Coupled with population growth projections (note the familiar “hockey stick graph” below, and its similarity to the hockey stick graph associated with increasing carbon emissions), the shift towards urban centers suggests dramatic changes for both human society and our relationship with natural environments.

    World Population Growth

    Image credit: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York.

    As we become increasingly urban (check out a neat animated graphic here), we are simultaneously scrambling to figure out how on earth we are going to make the transition smoothly—to make it sustainably. Of course, “sustainability” is a weighted term carrying many different definitions. For demonstration purposes, I will use the term in its simplest form: from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up), sustainability is the ability to sustain, or put another way, the capacity to endure.

    With this definition of sustainability in mind, the question now becomes: with a rapidly growing global population urbanizing against the backdrop of an unpredictable climate, in what capacity and by what means will earth continue to endure?

    The root causes of our current situation will not be solved by an all-encompassing solution—we are not David facing Goliath. Nor will we be able to change everything we need to all at once—our current path was not blazed overnight. But we can use our lessons as a basis for innovation and the search for a new path. I will continually revisit this idea throughout my posts, but focus on one particularly impactful movement now: “greening” urban areas.

    If we want to reach the most people and realize the highest value for resources used, it makes sense to go to where people are congregating at high densities—the “most bang for our buck,” as they say. With two-thirds of the world’s population in cities by 2050, efforts to make urban areas more sustainable will reach a lot of people (potentially around 6.4 billion urban residents by 2050) in a relatively small area.

    Discover Storm Water

    Much of the effort to green cities focuses on improving storm water management (Project WET Foundation has a KIDs book on the subject). Runoff is a serious concern when precipitation is improperly managed and allowed to flow over impermeable surfaces (think streets, sidewalks, and rooftops) and into storm drains. Storm water threatens flooding and public safety, poses risk to drinking water sources and community investment, and carries city pollution to storm drains that channel into rivers, streams, and oceans. The Philadelphia Water Department is an enthralling example of the available tools for better manage storm water.

    Philadelphia is currently experimenting with a large toolbox. The city is using natural features—trees, grass, shrubs, perennials, and the like— to divert storm water and prevent it from becoming runoff. These tools take the form of green roofs, rain barrels, stormwater tree trenches, rain gardens, porous paving, stormwater bumpouts, stormwater planters, infiltration/storage trenches, stormwater wetlands, and stormwater basins. These tools employ basic mechanisms often taught to seventh graders: plants aid in the evaporation, infiltration, evapotranspiration, and filtration of storm water. Storm water management infrastructure built around self-perpetuating operations found in nature is one example of innovation working towards a more sustainable future.

    Green Stormwater Infrastructure Tools

    Image credit: Philadelphia Water Department (2012): Green Stormwater Infrastructure

    Philadelphia is just one among many cities exploring new strategies for sustainability. Adelaide, AU, launched 5000+ in 2011 to collect and enable ideas from design professionals, businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and academia for the redesign, renewal, and reactivation of the city. The German city of Freiburg is known as one of the world’s most sustainable cities for its progressive actions with energy saving and climate protection, solar energy, environmental education, environmental protection, waste management, forestry, and urban parks. Our Canadian neighbors in Vancouver generate93 % of their energy from renewable sources and have invested heavily in walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure—efforts rewarded with the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any North American city. Vancouver also adopted an ambitious Greenest City 2020 Action Plan to stay on the front lines of urban sustainability. Reykjavik, IS, tops many green city lists. Iceland’s capitol runs entirely on renewable energy—including hydroelectric and geothermal—it’s transit system uses hydrogen buses, and green spaces and cycling/walking paths are integrated and easily accessible throughout the city. Lists of urban areas taking steps towards sustainability are numerous and attest to the global challenge of sustainability (check out these: 10 Amazing Green Cities, Top 5 Greenest Cities in the World, and 10 World’s Greenest Cities).

    Last week I discussed why we ought to care to conserve water. Today I echo that call: over 150 million people living in cities experience recurrent water shortage (less than 100 L/person/day of clean surface and groundwater within their urban area). This number will rise to nearly 1 billion people by 2050. An additional 100 million urban dwellers will live with water shortages resulting from a changing climate (McDonald et al., 2011).

    Recognizing we will begin to experience these consequences within our lifetimes is imperative. However, while urban centers everywhere may be particularly vulnerable to tragic futures, they also offer an incredible source of hope and inspiration. We can make changes with far-reaching impacts—water conservation is a fantastic example. I would one day like to see Top Green Cities of the World lists a thing of the past, as being green becomes an expectation rather than an exception.

    Water Is Everywhere, Why Care to Conserve?

    Reflection

    I’ve been researching water and sustainability the last few days and much of what’s out there is intuitive. Fix leaks, take shorter showers, run only full loads of dishes and laundry, and try to minimize how much you water driveways and other paved areas (i.e. make sure sprinklers only cover vegetation). These are all examples of the how in the quest for water conservation, and they are all very doable changes. However, without a compelling case for why we should conserve water, making any lasting changes to status quo of water (over) consumption would be nothing short of a miracle.

    People generally want to know what they are doing is making a difference. To know it matters—if not personally, then to someone (or thing) somewhere at some point in time. Why else bother breaking away from what’s comfortable? Even those who try not to live beyond their means because It’s the right thing to do, do so because they understands it matters in some way. But doing the right thing in water conservation for some people can compete with the right thing in other areas of their lives. This creates conflict, which makes the right thing less straightforward. How can we ask the family struggling to put food on the table to step back and focus on water conservation?

    Before diving into equity complexities, let me begin with why water needs conserving in the first place. With about 332,500,000 mi3 (1,386,000,000 km3) of water on earth, it’s hard to imagine running out of water. The amount of water on earth is more or less constant—such a minute amount makes it to space that there’s no point including it in analyses. In this sense, we will never run out of water. The issue with water availability thus lies not within the total amount of water on earth, but within the amount of fresh water in forms available for use by humans and other species.

    An image from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) depicting the amount of water on, in, and above earth recently went around both the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Project WET Foundation.

    Global Water Volume

    Image credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

    It amounts to this: if all the water from our planet was gathered and balled up, the 332,500,000 mi3 (1,386,000,000 km3) of water would cower next to the size of earth itself. The biggest water sphere on this image represents everything—all water, including ocean, water vapor, lakes, rivers, icecaps, glaciers, aquifers, soil moisture, and even the water in our bodies and those of every living thing. The middle sphere depicts the fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers. This 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3) of water is 99 percent groundwater, much of which is unavailable for human use. Finally, the barely noticeable sphere hovering over Georgia illustrates water from the world’s fresh-water lakes and rivers. This last 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3) sphere is notable because the majority of people and life on earth get their daily water needs from these surface-water sources. (note: these are spheres, so even though it is tempting to compare their sizes to states and countries, doing so would be inaccurate and over-exaggerate how small the spheres are. States and countries are flat, but the water spheres have depth).

    Even as a water resources management graduate student, this USGS image is sobering. The water connecting every living being—and every being that ever lived—is also something most of us take for granted. It’s true all that water will always be on earth. The water cycle sees to that, in all it’s sweeping complexity and constant transformation. But that also means earth will not increase it’s water supply either. The amount is fixed. And we as humans can perturb the cycle. We can pollute our finite supply of fresh water. We can extract it faster than nature can replenish it and cause imbalance in the cycle such that available water shifts into unusable stored sources. We can cause the climate to change and consequently alter where, when, and how much water is available for people to use—and research (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and many more) suggests the areas most vulnerable and likely to experience the greatest impacts are also the ones least responsible for the changes and the ones least in a position to adapt. But we can also choose a different path and change the status quo.

    Education and awareness provide the foundation upon which change is built. Without it, we wouldn’t know a change was needed in the first place, nor would we know how or what to change. Project WET and other education and outreach organizations are vigorously and passionately working to fill the knowledge gap. For Project WET, that means teacher and child education and training through a plethora of outlets. It also means recognizing we live in a world full of diverse people, cultures, backgrounds, standards of livings, and expectations. One method of water conservation—say, turning on sprinklers in early morning or late evening to minimize evaporation and maximize infiltration—might work well for some and be completely arbitrary for others (compare a sprinkler-happy country club to a rural Ugandan village).

    Washing Hands

    Image credit: Project WET Foundation

    Effective education will lead to positive change when it speaks to people’s circumstance. Learning when and how to wash hands can be the difference between healthy living and disease for some, so it is important there to make that the focus of water. Capturing precipitation in a rain barrel and using it to water a garden can be the difference in improving the quality of life of inner city children, so it is important there to make that the focus of water education.

    The answer to the why in water conservation is different for each individual. In some cases, the when might vary as well. But one constant across all walks of life is the thirst and need for knowledge. And when that knowledge empowers people to act, the first step towards change is taken.

    “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.”—Khalil Gibran

    DiscoverWater.org

    First Generation iMac

    Personal computers were just becoming more widely available to the public when I was in elementary school. At home, my brothers and I were addicted to playing a fire truck-cat game we had on our clunker of a PC. In middle school, our computer lab got the hip upgrade to first generation iMacs. Those gumdrop shaped and colored computers from the late 90s were mesmerizing, even if their function left something to be desired. Their games were of course restricted by the school’s network administrator. A computer game could only be a distraction, certainly not educational, right?

    Fast forward a little over a decade and we have Discover Water: The Project WET Foundation’s online site dedicated to educating students about our most precious natural resource. I’ve explored Discover Water quite a bit and am confident that if it were available on those first generation iMacs back in middle school, teachers and administrators would have eagerly promoted the science-based website and the multitude of games and activities it offers as an exception to the computer game ban.

    Educators today would (and do) feel the same. The Discover Water pilot involved 59 teachers and 3,746 students from schools across the United States. The site covers water-related topics ranging from the water cycle and oceans to wise water use and watersheds. Each topic includes fun games and activities, an approach to learning known as “gamification education.” Discover Water—and all of Project WET’s materials—represent a shift in our approach to education.

    Discover Water

    Young people today are increasingly raised in a bubble of 21st century technology and we would be doing future generations a great disservice if our educational systems remained stuck in the 20th Century. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a profession that does not use technology directly or indirectly, but I can think of many examples of educators embracing technology to relate with and encourage their students. For brevity, I focus on one shining example: my high school AP biology teacher.

    Biohazard 5

    Bozeman High School’s Paul Andersen is one of the most fun and interactive teachers I’ve been fortunate enough to have in school. Last year, he was Montana’s 2011 Teacher of the Year and made it to the top four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award. The zig to his zag? Andersen used Moodle to transform his Bozeman High School science classroom into “Biohazard 5,” an alternate reality game (ARG) consisting of video podcasts, hundreds of science questions and quizzes, fun activities, and levels with points leading to high scorers and grades. Andersen’s YouTube channel, BozemanBiology, is also a hit, with over 200 videos and more than 4 million channel views.

    On his website, Andersen points out how traditional classrooms keep every student at the same level. This prevents exceptional students from learning more (boring) and leaves students that need more time to master material behind (frustrating). Biohazard 5, however, allowed students to learn at their own pace and tap into their full potential. Incorporating technology into education presents a whole new set of challenges, of course, but that is not an excuse for ignoring the role of technology in the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s young people.

    Which brings me back to Project WET’s Discover Water. Like Andersen’s classroom leveling system, Project WET plans to add a badge system to the website so students and teachers can acquire and document learning in an individualized, self-paced manner. Early this year, Discover Water made it to the third level in the Digital Media and Learning, Badges for Lifelong Learning competition sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. The primary goal of Discover Water’s badge system is to give players—whether in a formal classroom setting or learning just for fun—credit for their efforts and a sense of accomplishment.

    Both Discover Water and Biohazard 5 stand as success stories where education standards and technology can merge and teachers are afforded new ways to access student learning.