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Since 1998 (with a few exceptions [COVID-19]) the Metro Water Festival has invited elementary students to the MN State Fair Grounds to explore the wide world of water science. In the form of a field day, classes move from station to station with activities centered on different topics presented by government orgs (DNR, MPCA, FWS, BLM) and local non-profits like River Watch. Patti and I had the pleasure of leading an activity at the Water Festival this year, working with 6 different groups of 4th Graders.

The activity was simple: define and create a watershed. Each student was given a ball of clay and asked to shape it into something we would find on a map (hills, valleys, farms, roads, bridges, parks) and we combined them all together to make a unique watershed. Then we poured water on the clay creation and saw how it moved across the environment.

The real strength of this hands-on activity is that students of all levels can use their creativity to participate and begin to understand how water moves across the environment. With a simple piece of clay, everyone can contribute something meaningful to the “map”. The secondary lesson is to point out how water creates runoff, and the environment/human impacts can move pollution through the watershed to downstream areas, where it collects.

Though the sessions were short (25 minutes) we witnessed so much creativity and mental connections being formed in the students' young minds. I hope we can participate in future festivals celebrating and investigating the vast topics of water science. It is our most important resource.

A Wacky Watershed assembled by Water Festival participants!

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Fall is the perfect time to get outside and learn about nature by being in nature. This was the basic idea of the Minneopa Field Day event hosted by the MN Dept of Natural Resources. Over 2 days, nearly 500 students from Mankato East trekked out to Minneopa State Park to participate in stations covering a wide range of ecological topics (Prairie Ecosystems, Bison & the Land, Technology in Nature, River Exploration etc).

River Watch helped lead the station on Benthic Macroinvertebrates (water bugs), along with members from the DNR & MPCA. The lesson covered functional feeding groups [new information to me], and how macroinvertebrates can indicate how healthy our water is. With the basics out of the way, students got to explore the creek: scooping for macroinvertebrates, traversing the rocks, and identifying flora and fauna from the creek. I find it particularly fun to carry a bug around showing it off to those who seem squeamish. The bugs are always harmless, so there is no danger in looking, but not everyone is cool with a 10 legged amphipod, or a large clawed crayfish. Ultimately, I hope students walked away with a deeper understanding of the complex ecosystem hiding just below the surface of the water, and, if not an appreciation, a lowered aversion to these strange wonderful water creatures.

*Not all macroinvertebrates are classified as bugs

This is the collection box from Day One. A close look will reveal 3 crayfish, and a predacious diving beetle. We collected many other macro's which didn't pose for the picture.

*Dobson Fly Larvae

*Amphipods (Scud/Sideswimmer)

*Mayfly Larvae

*Damselfly Larvae

*Dragonfly Larvae

* Net-Spinning Caddisfly Larvae

*Northern/Tube-Casing Caddisfly Larvae






*Fingernail Clams

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) invited River Watch to present at the MN State Fair as part of their community partners series. It’s always exciting to present at the Fair because there is a certain magic as people from across the state (and country) congregate to celebrate the end of summer. Curious folks from all walks of life stopped by the River Watch booth to investigate the mystery river water we collected and learn about the current state of three of Minnesota’s largest rivers: Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix.

What stood out to me about our day at the fair was meeting so many people concerned about the state of our water, and looking for ways to do their part to clean it up. So here are some actions you can take to do your part:

  • Clean up the Storm Drains: Storm drain grates collect refuse from our neighborhood (leaves, trash, sand) and all of that travels unfiltered into natural waters. By cleaning up the storm drain near you, you can help minimize the pollution moving from your neighborhood.

  • Collect Lawn Waste: Lawn waste (cut grass, leaves etc.) is filled with Nitrates which are a significant source of pollution in Minnesota waters. By bagging up, composting, or repurposing your lawn waste, you are helping to keep it out of natural waters.

  • Use the Rain: Install a rain barrel on your gutter (DIY Instructions). Rain barrels collect storm runoff, which can be used to water plants. Plants do not need water that is purified to standards for human consumption. By using the collected rainwater, you lessen the demand for clean drinkable water, which in turn saves energy and helps us maintain the longevity of our water supply.

  • You can also convert your garden to a rain garden! The main feature of a rain garden is it has a deep basin-like center that collects rainwater and allows it to filter down into the ground. By encouraging rainwater infiltration, you reduce the potential for polluted runoff, and increase the water storage capacity of the land around you.

There are more ways to help [Clean up your animal waste!], but hopefully these three tips help get you started.

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