Many people do not realize Alabama is one of the states most blessed when it comes to water resources. In fact, there are 77,000 miles of streams and rivers (a length that could wrap around the Earth three times!). Alabama also has more navigable rivers and more freshwater species than any other state. Because we have so much when it comes to water, it is easy for us to take it for granted. However, we know it is our responsibility as stewards of the Earth to make sure we are not causing damage to our water resources.
Most of us feel it is also our responsibility to instill an appreciation and respect for the environment in the children and youth of our communities. This is accomplished first by setting a good example for them, and also by providing them with opportunities to gain knowledge and an understanding of the way the natural world works. Through this process, we are paving the way for younger generations to learn how to become good decision-makers, leaders and responsible community members who work to protect water and the health of Alabamians.
For many years, Alabama 4-H has helped to make the connection between kids and nature. 4-H members are taught how to be responsible farmers and producers through Animal Science programs and Junior Master Gardener program. Several programs are specifically focused on natural resources and the environment including Classroom in the Forest, Skins n Skulls and the Coosa River Science School, among others. Thanks to efforts like these, thousands of youth in Alabama have a greater understanding and appreciation of their environment. This year, 4-H has established a new partnership with Alabama Water Watch that will provide additional opportunities for youth to learn about water quality, the aquatic environment and to gain hands-on scientific skills in water monitoring.
Water is life. It is simply logical that we place a great importance on understanding water, how we can protect it, use it wisely and restore waterbodies that are in trouble. In order to achieve any or all of these goals, we need experts such as scientists and engineers, who can search for new technologies and ways of doing things. Equally important are citizens who can make good educated decisions for themselves and their communities regarding water resources.
For more than 20 years, the Alabama Water Watch program has been educating the general public about the importance of water and how each of us can play a role in its protection. By teaching citizens to do simple water tests that produce credible data, AWW has empowered people throughout the state to make a difference in their local communities by teaching others about water quality, working to make improvements to water quality where it is needed and protecting healthy watersheds. As a result, there are nearly 6,000 citizens who have been certified as AWW water monitors, over 800 waterbodies that have been tested by volunteers and over 72,000 AWW water data records to help us know if Alabama’s waters are getting better or worse and why.
Throughout the years many educators have used AWW monitoring techniques and the AWW Aquatic Science curriculum Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams. Educators have collaborated with AWW on various outreach events and projects to bring water science to life for their students. By involving kids in water monitoring activities, an educator can show them that science can be fun, and students can become more confident in their abilities to do science. One study showed that Alabama students who were taught with the EALS curriculum, along with the Classroom in the Forest program, over a 4-year period increased their Stanford Achievement Test scores from 50-70 percent.
The 4-H/AWW partnership will allow for the development of an official program focused on kids, water quality and water monitoring. Adult AWW volunteers will have the opportunity to share their passion for clean water with 4-H members all over the state, which exemplifies the 4-H vision of having "a world in which youth and adults learn, grow and work together as catalysts for positive change."
4-H members who participate will have the knowledge, tools and motivation to teach their friends and family about water quality and how they can protect it. They will learn, no matter how young or old we are, we can do something to make a difference! By working through the well-respected Alabama 4-H network including excellent 4-H and Alabama Cooperative Extension System staff and caring adult volunteers, this partnership will have a positive impact on our precious water resources and on Alabama’s most important treasure, our children!
If you would like to learn more, visit www.alabamawaterwatch.org or call the AWW office at 888-844-4785. Sign up for a water monitoring workshop today!
Mona Scruggs Dominguez is with Alabama Water Watch and 4-H & Youth Development of Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.