Early this week, about 130 local high school students set afloat down the Red Deer River with the RiverWatch Science Program.
“RiverWatch’s primary concern is twofold. One is trying to help kids understand the importance our waterways, our aquatic ecosystems and watersheds all around the province. Secondly, in using the kids and their findings to inform the public as well the government as to how they’re doing protecting and conserving our waterways,” said Doug Spicer, Hunting Hills High School science teacher.
Grade 9 advanced science students from Hunting Hills High School launched from the McKenzie Trail Recreation Area in four rafts each equipped as mobile water quality laboratories, along with experienced guides.
The day trip on the Red Deer River will have the students stop at two shoreline study sites, one upstream of the waste water treatment plant and one immediately downstream of the plant.
At both shoreline study sites students will conduct water quality tests for both chemistry and biological factors.
“It’s great to show the kids that science doesn’t just take place in a lab,” says Sarah Hirschfeld, a RiverWatch guide.
With portable testing kits, students will be able to collect water quality data that will measure pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphates and nitrogen concentrations in the water.
A biologic factor that the students will look for is the abundant presence of various invertebrate species, which are important indicators of the environmental quality.
“We’re going to be comparing those two sets of data fairly carefully, and we’re going to look and determine how well the City of Red Deer treats our waste water,” Spicer said.
The water quality data collected will be logged by RiverWatch online, and used to answer the question: “How clean is your river?”
The RiverWatch program applies real world applications to what the students have been studying in class about environmental chemistry. “It’s a reinforcement of their learning, as to how we determine water quality,” said Spicer.
Since 1995 RiverWatch has been collecting and preserving data on all the major rivers in Alberta, collected by students, on their web site.
With the data RiverWatch collects, they are able to communicate with the Department of the Environment and the Alberta government about ways to improve the way water is treated.
“The government does take RiverWatch seriously.”
RiverWatch Executive Director Cal Kullman praised the three-year sponsorship deal with NOVA Chemicals, which will allow RiverWatch to keep the fees affordable and ensure that schools are able to take part in the educational program for years to come.
“The fact that our kids are able to go is largely due to sponsors like NOVA and some of the other companies that sponsor the RiverWatch program, so we are pretty appreciative of that,” Spicer said.
Throughout this year in Alberta RiverWatch will expect 10,000 students to participate in their program.
“We really like coming to Red Deer. We are very well received here by the community and enjoy the experience here,” said Kullman.