Grand County students wade into the science of water |

Grand County students wade into the science of water

Tonya Bina
Grand County, CO Colorado

Eighth graders from East Grand Middle School and the Indian Peaks Charter School collect water samples from the Fraser River last Thursday. Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News

As many as 400 students from both East and West Grand schools took part in the inaugural “Watershed Week” program this month to learn about water quality and water management in their communities.

The nonprofit Grand County Water Information Network coordinated with teachers to bring all sixth- through eighth-grade students on field trips to the rivers, to water treatment plants, to diversion system tours, on ranches or at the molybdenum mine.

“No doubt, being at the headwaters we have a special responsibility to our watershed,” said Alex Brooks, watershed program manager of the Grand County Water Information Network who has spearheaded the organization’s education arm during his time as an Americorps Vista volunteer.

Watershed Week “reinforces that responsibility at a young age when students are being introduced to scientific principles.”

East Grand sixth-graders learned about timely issues such as human impacts on the watershed through water diversions in the Grand Lake area. A representative of the Northern Water Colorado Conservancy District shared information with classes, as well as a member of the Grand Lake Area Historical Society, who talked about Grand Lake’s pre-diversion history. Students also learned how the mountain pine beetle epidemic affects the watershed.

“Alex Brooks did a great job bringing in a bunch of different community resources to present to the students what role water plays in Grand County, as well as the rest of the state and region,” said sixth-grade science teacher Marc Loberg of the East Grand Middle School.

“All three days were very beneficial to my students,” said Jake Davis, science teacher of the West Grand PK-8 School. “Each day allowed for a different type of analysis of the Colorado watershed –┬áthat being earth science, life science, and physical science.”

According to Brooks, the material students learn in the field is meant to coincide with state standards of learning in the classroom.

“This does fit within the science curriculum,” Davis said. “Looking at PH levels and chemical compounds in the river, life around the watershed and impacts humans have on the watershed, both positive and negative.”

West Grand sixth-graders learned how the Climax molybdenum mine has a responsibility to return clean water to the river. The class also conducted snowpack measurements and learned about the mountain pine beetle.

East Grand seventh-graders toured the Fraser Ponds and learned about fish stocking from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and about riparian habitats.

West Grand seventh-graders toured Muddy Creek, sampled bug life in the stream, learned about ranch irrigation, and learned of healthy soils from the Bureau of Land Management.

And eighth graders from East Grand learned how chemistry is used in wastewater treatment at the Granby and Tabernash treatment plants. The classes also did water quality sampling on the Fraser River.

At West Grand, eighth graders toured the Hot Sulphur water treatment plant and did water sampling on the Blue and Colorado rivers. They also learned about the water used at the Climax Mine.

Jane Tollett, executive director of the water information network, hopes the programs become an annual part of school studies.

“Some of these kids had never been on the river,” she said.

By introducing students to their watershed systems, we’re “creating future stewards to look after the area’s natural resources.”

Another school program through the nonprofit “Bug Week” took place earlier in the school year and was targeted to high school biology students.

For both programs, “we wanted (them) to be relevant to their own lives and to the watersheds they’re living in,” Brooks said. “It’s important to maintain their interest all the way through school. To use the world around them to get interested in these topics.”

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603