The future of Colorado’s South Platte River… lies in the lands of youth!

Denver’s vacuum truck crew does a demonstration to teach kids about storm sewer pollution

Denver’s vacuum truck crew does a demonstration to teach kids about storm sewer pollution

By Lydia Hooper

What better way to educate kids about water than to have them take ownership of it? That’s the idea behind the watershed education work done at Earth Force, a non-profit that empowers youth to take action on environmental issues in their community. In my work with Earth Force I have come to see that there’s also no better way to improve water than to get youth involved!

I serve as a liaison between Earth Force and one of their partners – the City and County of Denver. These agencies share the mission of spreading the message about stewardship “from drain to stream” as part of Denver Public Works’ “Keep It Clean” (KIC) campaign. Denver’s storm drains empty directly into the South Platte River, so to keep the river from getting polluted, the city has to communicate to residents about how their behavior affects the river.

Earth Force encourages students of all ages to become leaders in their community, spreading the good word about the beloved Platte. In the Denver metro area, students come to understand how the water is affected by their actions through participation in KIC programs, such as:

  • water quality testing of waterways in their neighborhoods
  • storm drain mapping of their local watershed
  • observing demonstrations of the city’s vacuum trucks that clean out storm drains

But what makes Earth Force’s work so unique is that students are encouraged to take their understanding a step further and think about how they could make a difference in addressing the problems they identify. Past projects include:

  • making a documentary about trash in the river
  • distributing brochures to educate local residents about flooding dangers
  • removing invasive species near waterways
  • planting native grasses to create a natural riparian wetland filtration system
  • spray-painting near the storm drains “dump no waste, drains to river”
  • informing local business owners about reducing water pollution and contamination

Now these partners are envisioning something I find even more compelling for the future: Keep It Clean- Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET). Working with additional partners at parks and schools, they are currently working to launch five KIC-NET outdoor education sites – places where a school, public park and waterway are within walking distance of one another. The sites will not only serve to connect parks and waterways, but classroom teachers will be offered site-specific materials to help them facilitate curriculum-based lessons in science, math, history and civics.

But best of all, KIC-NET students will gain the knowledge and confidence to become caretakers of neighborhood green spaces and waterways. Which is just what the South Platte needs.

How else can we include youth in work on water issues?

Lydia Hooper is the “Keep It Clean” Communications Liaison for Denver Public Works’ Wastewater Management-Water Quality Division and Earth Force, a non-profit that focuses on community partnership and facilitation of environmental service-learning projects for youth nationwide.

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