‘RiverWatch’ program going over well in schools

The “RiverWatch” program is off to a good start, organizer Jennifer Mercer noted yesterday, after completing several field trips with elementary schools on both sides of the border.
Students in grades five-seven at Robert Moore, J.W. Walker, Donald Young, Riverview, and Indus schools headed down to the Rainy River to take water samples, do insect counts, and test the overall quality of the water for maintaining organic life.
Mercer, also co-ordinator for the Rainy River Watershed Program through the Rainy River First Nation, said the “RiverWatch” program is just one step in the band’s goal of protecting, monitoring, and rehabilitating the river and its tributaries.
“Everyone has to do what they can,” she stressed. “The Rainy River First Nation’s way of life obligates us, as stewards, to take care of the Rainy River watershed.”
On the field trips, students looked at how the river supported bio-sentinel life, namely fathead minnows kept in a bottle or trap. They also took samples of invertebrate life (i.e., bugs) along the river to calculate the Pollution Tolerance Index, and brought along kits to test pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates in water samples.
“I’m going to be visiting [the schools] in about two or three weeks and give them an overview of what they collected and what the data means,” Mercer said, noting the data collected over time will serve as a sort of benchmark on the river’s progress.
Kerri Tolen, a teacher at Donald Young School in Emo, said her students enjoyed the experiment despite the cold weather. She also said it was a very good learning experience, noting it tied in with the school’s science and math curriculums.
“It’s good to make learning as real life as possible,” Tolen remarked. “I think it will be good for the kids to understand the research aspect. It is their river and the environment is very important.”
Meanwhile, Mercer already has plans to return to the schools to do more water sampling in May. And she hopes to continue this project for at least the next three years.
“One of the most encouraging things is when people were asking me questions as if they were going to pursue it as a career,” Mercer said. “And I had a few kids say, ‘I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up.’
“That’s what we’re after in the community–to encourage budding young scientists,” she stressed. “And it’s not just in our kids at Manitou Rapids. It’s everyone’s kids that will have an impact on the watershed.”