Elk Valley Students Take Action For Clean Water

We turn on our taps and water comes out. We pull the plug, and there it goes. But where did the water come from? Where did it go? This spring, students from the Elk Valley discovered through in-class sessions and hands-on action projects that saw them raising watershed awareness by painting hundreds of yellow fish on community storm drains and wrapping trees in the West Fernie Wetland to protect them from beavers that the answers to those questions are much more complex than the conveniences of modern life have led us to believe.

Their journey through the water cycle story was led by Know Your Watershed, an education program from the Columbia Basin Trust. This program, administered and managed by Wildsight, sees local educators visit classrooms for sessions on all things water and takes students on full-day field trips into their community’s watershed. Over the course of a few days, students learn how their water gets from the mountains to the faucet and all about the return journey down the pipes, through wastewater treatment and back into the water cycle.

Students from the Elk Valley took their water investigation even further by leaving their desks behind and heading outside to take on some student action projects—which helps explain the new informational art popping up beside stormwater drains. The yellow fish are being painted by classrooms from Sparwood, Elkford and Fernie Secondary to help spread awareness about protecting our waterways, letting locals know that anything that flows into the storm drain flows straight into a local river. Three hundred and fifty yellow fish have been painted beside community storm drains throughout the Elk Valley.

Painting yellow fish was not the only action project on this year’s agenda. Students from The Fernie Academy joined an existing Elk River Alliance project in the West Fernie Wetlands by wrapping 35 trees to protect them from the perhaps a little too busy neighbourhood beavers—keeping the trees standing to help prevent erosion and stabilize the river bank. 

“Turning learning into action is an integral part of the Know Your Watershed program,” said Wildsight Educator Janelle Park. “These stewardship projects show students how we must all work together to protect and sustain our precious aquatic ecosystems, for today and for the future.” Sometimes the best lessons are learned outside the classroom.

“Spring really is a perfect time to be out looking at issues that affect our water supply, and try to understand the complex variables that can change water quality, and water quantity in our local watersheds,” said Wildsight’s Know Your Watershed Coordinator Dave Quinn. And with the program being updated alongside the revised BC curriculum and moving from Grade 8 to Grade 9 classrooms this year, the 7th season of Know Your Watershed - much like the time between winter and summer - was one of transition.

Given that some students were getting a bonus year of watershed knowledge, topics were tailored to the individual classroom to avoid repetition. Some students learned about the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, the international agreement between Canada and the United States to coordinate flood control and optimize hydropower generation on both sides of the border. Some students participated in hands-on learning about water quality monitoring and macroinvertebrates, those tiny creatures that live in our waterways as indicators of stream health. Water cycles, our daily water use, and the challenges of wastewater treatment were all on the learning menu.

This combination of updated curriculum and returning faces, mixed in with some fresh student action and learning projects, made for an exciting new season of Know Your Watershed throughout the Columbia Basin. So if you see a community youngster deep in thought at the water fountain, now you know why.