Lessons in H2O: Through program, Buena High School students help monitor water


Herald Review


SIERRA VISTA, ARIZONA-- As Maria Dominquez tests the San Pedro River's pH level, Jesse Cozart is busy checking its turbidity.

Collecting water through a long tube marked in numbered increments, Cozart pauses periodically to search for a white indicator at the tube's base. When the indicator disappears from sight, the test is complete.

"Turbidity shows how clear the water is," Cozart said. "It's affected by lots of things -- pollution, how fast water flows and animals that wander in and out of the stream."

As part of an educational outreach program to teach students key features of the hydraulic cycle and how water chemistry changes, Buena High School earth science and ecology students are participating in a water monitoring project that started Thursday. Earth science teacher Dan Montoya spearheaded the hands-on project that grew to about 250 students when other Buena science classes asked to be included in the program.


Neil Mattox and Justine Toyota, both ninth-graders at Buena High School, return a sample after taking water temperature data at a point on the San Pedro River during a field trip. In celebration of the Clean Water Act 30 years ago, three science classes converged on the river to learn about water and ecology. (Ed Honda-Herald/Review)

A collaborative effort, the educational project includes Water Wise Youth Education, docents from the Friends of the San Pedro, Sue Keith of the Arizona Department of Water Quality, Bureau of Land Management staff, Jacqueline Kahn of the University of Arizona Hydrology Department, and Jim Washburne, University of Arizona director of education for sustainability of semi-arid hydrology and riparian areas.

Standing under sprawling cottonwood trees along the banks of the San Pedro, Washburne guides students through four water quality measurements, to include water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity.

Working in groups of two, the student researchers take measurements, record results and discuss their findings. The data is used to study how changes along the San Pedro affects overall stream health.

"Do you think the water here or the water that you tested back at school is more conducive to plant life?" Washburne asked.

Ninth-grade student Neil Mattox ventures an answer with, "The water at the river. The water here has more trees all around it and more wildlife," he said. "At school, the water we tested had algae and tadpoles. It was standing water. This is fresher."

Working as a team, Mattox and Justine Toyota test the water for turbidity, acquiring the same measurement as Cozart's earlier sample.

As part of a global project, data collected by students will be used on an international Web site.

Hoping to include schools along the San Pedro and its tributaries, from Mexico to Sierra Vista, students will have the opportunity to learn about the watershed and how humans and natural processes affect it.

Scientists working along the San Pedro are researching a number of water issues that impact the river basin. "They're looking at how much water there really is and the connection between ground water and surface water," Washburne said. "They want to know how pumping water in Sierra Vista is affecting the water that's feeding the San Pedro River, which is obviously a big issue."

As part of their research, scientists are examining how fast water recharges and are building retaining basins in the washes, hoping to allow more water to soak into the ground.

"A recharge basin is a dammed wash or creek that normally is dry," Washburne said. "By creating a recharge basin, water that typically would run off slows down, allowing it to soak into the ground and filter into the ground water system."

Concerned about improving hydrologic literacy, researchers are working with teachers and students, involving them in a number of the water conservation projects.

Jackie Kahn, another researcher, is working with educators as part of project GLOBE, an international collaboration of schools, scientists and educators. "We're hoping to involve schools and environmental science organizations to help with the water monitoring measurements all along the river," Kahn said. Information to help schools do that is available online at www.globe.gov.

Using a rolling river watershed as a model, Mary Ann Black demonstrates the principals of stream bank engineering and its positive effect on the aquifer. "Our goal is to educate people of what happens when you stabilize a stream bank and what happens down stream if you don't," she said.

A hands-on project, the rolling water-shed teaches students about the watershed, water and stream-bank dynamics and the importance of recharge in preserving the aquifer.

In another educational water conservation project, an eroded stream bank paralleling Apache Middle School was restored and is used as a demonstration model to show what can be done to manage storm water run-off in an urban watershed, Black said.

Hank Huisking, who is the youth educator for Water Wise said, "This field trip and project has been in the planning stages for over a month. Testing kits were provided through a grant."

Starting from the San Pedro House, students divided into 13 groups along the river, where they also looked at beaver habitats, animals, insects and plant life. "We incorporated the entire river ecosystem in this project," Huisking said.

HERALD/REVIEW reporter Dana Cole can be reached at 458-9440 Ext. 118 or by e-mail at dana.cole@svherald.com.


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