Hands-On Water Education

The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative is up to its elbows converting students, teachers and community members into soil and water conservation gurus. Between field work, conservation camps and community workshops, the organization is taking San Luis Valley residents’ water-IQ up a few notches.

Now in its 23rd year, the initiative was founded by a consortium of conservation districts. Since director Judy Lopez took the lead in 2005, the scope of the initiative’s programs has broadened considerably. An interactive river dynamics trailer once saw about 1,500 school children a year; that’s up to 10,000. A two-week teachers’ workshop with a three-year component has graduated 160 teachers from around the state in six years and keeps a waiting list.

Teachers attend a workshop learning
to identify stream macro-invertebrates to use as an activity in their classrooms. Photo By: Judy Lopez

There’s more: Four years ago, the initiative took over a week-long youth conservation camp that engages 70 elementary and middle school kids at a time; donations by partner organizations keep the price down in a region where many kids live in poverty. Lopez also enrolls up to 130 high school students in four-year field research projects; several students have received college scholarships based on their projects.

Five years ago, the initiative began hosting water 101 workshops in the broader community. A $23,500 grant awarded through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable will enable them to continue that work. “It’s going to be about helping people understand where they fit,” says Lopez. “We need to get kids and community members to buy into the process of resource management. By helping them see a broader picture, they’ll understand that these things are more than just sound bites.”