This guest blog post was written by Jessica Rehmann, a high school intern with the Water Rocks! team. Jessica is beginning her senior year at Ames High School this fall, where she is actively involved with music (playing saxophone in band/jazz band), athletics (cross country/ track), and more. And no, you are not seeing double… Emily Rehmann (previous blogger and summer intern) and Jessica Rehmann are identical twins!
As a summer intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, I have been traveling around the state with the Conservation Station to many county fairs. Our goal is to educate fair attendees about water quality and watersheds with the Enviroscape model, the Rainfall Simulator, the Learning Lab trailer posters and videos, and the Poo Toss game. We also sometimes have free popcorn for the people who visit our station! I have enjoyed teaching kids (and adults!) about the Enviroscape and Poo Toss game.
With the Enviroscape model, we want to help people see the effects of pollution and rainfall within a watershed. Because the Enviroscape is a three-dimensional model of a watershed, we start by discussing what a watershed is. To make the point that a watershed is an area of land where all the water drains to a common point, I ask kids to make a cup with their hands to represent the watershed and a landscape (or as fellow intern Megan calls it, a “handscape”). We choose places on our “handscape” for our homes, the fairgrounds, and maybe a store. Next we pretend-rain on our hands and determine where the water would go. The kids realize that in their watershed, the water that rains on their houses and the water that rains on the fair would all go to one place, the lowest point on the landscape. In the Enviroscape watershed, they guess that the common point that water drains to is the lake.
Next, we add pollution to the watershed. I invite the kids to take a tour through the watershed first to get an idea of where pollution could be. The model includes a neighborhood, forest, factory, roads, vehicles, construction site, golf course, farm, pasture, rivers, and lake. We add loose soil (the biggest polluter of water in Iowa), fertilizer, pesticides/herbicides, oil, and manure to the watershed. The kids will often guess what the powders representing the pollutants are, and they are surprisingly accurate, especially with the lime Kool-Aid representing fertilizer!
After we have added pollutants to the watershed, the kids summon their inner rain clouds and make a big rainstorm on the Enviroscape with squirt bottles. As the rain hits the ground, it carries the pollutants with it as everything runs downhill to the lake. The kids are often surprised that all the pollutants run into the lake and cause the lake to become disgusting and polluted. They declare that they would not like to drink or swim in the water and that the plants and animals in and around the lake would not be happy.
Then we discuss what we could do differently to help the water in the watershed stay cleaner. The kids can often come up with fixing leaky cars and boats, using less fertilizers and pesticides, and picking up after dogs. I also explain checking the forecast for no rain before applying fertilizers and pesticides, planting buffer strips along fields, using cover crops, planting plants on loose soil, and more.
After learning what they can do to help the watershed, Conservation Station visitors get to play the Poo Toss game. In the Poo Toss game, kids learn to properly dispose of dog waste in order to reduce nutrients and bacteria from getting into water. Once they bag the waste, they can toss it into waste buckets to win prizes. The kids enjoy playing the game and like to see other parts of the Conservation Station or come back and do the same activities again! A couple kids kept coming back with more friends to replay the Poo Toss, or see the Enviroscape and Rainfall Simulator!
While the Enviroscape and Poo Toss were the main activities I was involved with, the Conservation Station offers multiple other learning opportunities, as well. The Rainfall Simulator includes parcels of land that show different land management practices, including no tillage, minimum/conservation tillage, intense tillage, cover crops, urban environment (pavement), and a green roof. A rain machine mists the trays, and there are jars below to collect the surface runoff as well as water that infiltrates (soaks into the land). The jars show the amount and the cleanliness of the water that comes from each plot. Inside the Conservation Station trailer, people can walk through the Learning Lab and check out fun Water Rocks! videos and posters about conservation practices and water quality.
In the quieter moments of the fairs (to be expected with some smaller counties and extreme heat), I enjoyed watching a mud run, walking around the fairgrounds, climbing a rock wall, and meeting Cy!
I hadn’t been to any small county fairs before, so it was an interesting experience to see what they had to offer. I had a great time traveling the state with the Conservation Station and teaching about water quality!