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Watersheds have lessons for children

“No! No! Nooooooooo!”

The chorus of 8- and 9-year-old voices swelled in volume and alarm as a rainfall created by Jennifer Moss’ spray bottle forced colored streams down the slopes of a large watershed model, mingling red, black and brown hues with clear water representing the river.

“Our beautiful river,” a little girl’s voice, rising above the din, said. “It’s being destroyed.”

Point made.

Monday’s demonstration at Vista Grande Community Center in Sandia Park was part of an interactive course in watersheds and how they connect people, plants and animals. The Nature Conservancy and some of its partners presented the multipart lesson to more than 80 children in first through eighth grades attending the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department Summer Program at the community center.

The course is an educational element of the Rio Grande Water Fund, created to increase forest restoration along the Rio Grande and its tributaries from Taos to Albuquerque.

“Today, we are going to learn a lot more about water cycles and watersheds,” Krista Bonfantine, a watershed ecologist with Arid Land Innovation, a company whose mission includes environmental education, told the assembled children. “We are going to be looking at how water moves around the Earth and how it moves around landscapes.”

Divided into four groups, the children heard about runoffs that erode soil and wash pollutants into rivers, how rain clouds are born and, during a brief hike, what the things they had been learning mean to the trees, plants and animals in the nearby forest.

Isa Cintron-Warren, 9, said she found the lessons both fun and inspiring.

“I want to work in water-filtering companies,” she said. “And I like hiking. I like to look around and see things that are new to me and find things that I can use in projects – rocks I can paint and pine cones. One time I saw a rock that was different colors. If I see a tree that is unusual, I’ll sketch a picture of it and write down its name.”

Back at the watershed model, Moss, district coordinator with the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, demonstrated how a pristine forest area is developed into a residential community that attracts agriculture and industry and how development can create strains on the environment and introduce pollutants into the water supply.

“We’ve got our roads and bridges,” she said. “Now a construction crew is coming in and making places level so people can move in. Now here’s this big industrial plant moving in. That’s where a lot of people living here are going to work. Now people are going to want to start cutting down trees to make more room and because they want a better view. It’s not as pretty anymore because they are taking away the green.”

Moss explained that rainfall can create runoffs that wash oil and gas leaked from vehicles, fertilizer in gardens, waste from whatever the plant is making and “poop” from domestic and farm animals into rivers and streams.

Creating color-coded pollutants from cocoa powder, food coloring and Kool-Aid – brown for fertilizer and poop, black for oil and gas, red for plant waste – Moss sent it all downhill with her spray bottle to the dismay of the youngsters gathered about her.

“I don’t even think the people who did it will feel sorry for the river,” a little girl said.

Moss told the children things they can do and can encourage their parents to do to eliminate pollutants that might be washed into rivers. Then she asked them to take a pledge.

“I promise to help my watershed,” the children chanted.

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