Learning the value of waterLake Superior Elementary School students spent Tuesday making connections. From the city of Superior’s wastewater treatment plant to the banks of Newton Creek, they studied the link between people and water.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Lake Superior Elementary School students spent Tuesday making connections. From the city of Superior’s wastewater treatment plant to the banks of Newton Creek, they studied the link between people and water.
“It’s teaching me that we need to keep our water clean,” said fifth-grader Hannah Furey.
The day started with a bus trip to the wastewater treatment plant. For the past 15 years, the city has provided about $2,000 annually to bus fifth-graders to the site to learn how water is treated. It’s a public service, said Diane Nelson with the city’s environmental services division.
“I think you can learn a lot more actually seeing it versus reading about it,” she said. “It gets kids here, gets kids an educational experience they might not otherwise have had.”
It also gave the Lake Superior students a chance to drop off a bag of fluorescent light bulbs to recycle.
There were a few spots on the tour where students held their noses, but the trip was more interesting than stinky. Although fifth-grade teacher Lindsey Braman has taken the tour many times, it was still a first for her. The class walked through the new building where water is disinfected with ultraviolet light before being released into Lake Superior. The process replaced chlorination this fall, according to research assistant Wendy Grethen.
“This is healthier,” she said.
The students spent the afternoon cleaning up trash at Carl Gullo Park, a tradition they’ve carried on for 20 years. They collected six partial bags of garbage and a weedy shopping cart. With some first-grade partners, the students then gathered on the banks of Newton Creek to test the water for turbidity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH balance (acidity).
“Water is, it can be clean and dirty but you can clean it to and it can be reused,” said Cody Kurki, who was in charge of recording turbidity, the degree of clarity of murkiness in a water sample. Tap water, for instance, would test at 0 for turbidity.
“We learned that Lake Superior has a bunch of different results. Like, here the pH is 8.5 and in Allouez Bay it can be really different,” said fellow fifth-grader Seth Smetak. “I had no clue what half the stuff we were learning was. I never thought that, like, pH really mattered. I’ve heard about it but I’m like, ‘Why does that matter?’ Now we’re like, ‘Oh, it matters a lot,’” Seth said.
The class is partnering with the Lake Superior Natural Estuarine Research Reserve this year to increase their knowledge of water health.
“It’s important we take care of this natural resource that is home to many plants and animals that might not be if there wasn’t an estuary,” said Meghan Burnham a lake educator intern with the NERR. “And the St. Louis River was a national area of concern for a number of years so it’s important they realize it’s been cleaned up and now it’s important that we take care of it because it’s a huge water source.”
Only three percent of the world’s water is fresh, according to NERR educator Deanna Erickson. And 10 percent of the world’s freshwater is in Lake Superior. Cleanup efforts along the 1,000-acre Newton Creek watershed, which empties out near Hog Island, removed 60,000 tons of oily sand. That’s the equivalent of what 15,000 elephants would weigh. Water testing, she told the students, was crucial to realizing the oil-soaked sand was there.
“I think it’s great that the kids learn this stuff when they’re young,” said Greg Jardine of Port Wing, on the trip with his son, first-grader Peyton.
Hannah said she looks at water differently now and realizes how important it is not to litter and pollute.
“It does hurt water, lakes and streams,” she said.
What can kids their age do about it?
“What we did today,” said Seth. “Pick up a bunch of garbage and try and protect it … just don’t litter. Keep it cleaner, try to make it cleaner.”