Teens wade in deep to learn the value of water

Three-day science camp lets high schoolers across Colorado experience water from mountain top to river bottom.

April 20, 2017 | By: Jay Adams
Keystone Science School students catch bugs in the Blue River in Silverthorne.
Keystone Science School students catch bugs in the Blue River in Silverthorne.

This is not your ordinary school. With mountains for walls, rivers for hallways and forests for playgrounds,  the Keystone Science School, nestled along the banks of the Snake River in Summit County, is the home of H2O Outdoors, a three-day camp for high school students from across Colorado.

This week, students from eight high schools settled into rustic cabins for a crash course in one of Colorado’s biggest issues — water.

Each year, Denver Water, Aurora Water and the Colorado River District partner with Keystone Science School to put on H2O Outdoors, one of the pillars of Denver Water’s Youth Education program.

“Learning in the classroom is one thing, but being out in it is a completely different story,” said Matt Bond, Youth Education program manager.

H2O Outdoors is all about experiencing water from mountain top to river bottom.

The camp uses hands-on experiments to teach the students about the intricacies of water use on Colorado River.
The camp uses hands-on lessons to teach the students about the intricacies of water use on the Colorado River.

“Some of these kids may never come up to the mountains, so this is a great way to teach them about water in a fun environment,” Bond said.

“I always thought I got my water from the rain that falls near my house,” said Isaac Dennis, a student at Littleton High School. “I assumed the West Slope was a desert, so I was shocked when I found out 80 percent of the water in the state is on the West Slope, including some that I get,” he said.

The students learn about the physical, chemical and biological properties of water, as well as how reservoirs and dams work. “They get in the water, touch the water and learn what it takes to bring water across the divide,” Bond said.

In Silverthorne, the students put on waders and walked into the Blue River to measure velocity and catch macro-invertebrates, better known as water bugs.

There’s more to H2O Outdoors than just learning about streams, bugs, watersheds and reservoirs. “We want to make sure we have all the different backgrounds and perspectives represented here,” said Dave Miller, Keystone Science School director of education. “That’s why we bring in students from the East Slope and the West Slope.”

Campers talk with Matt Bond, Denver Water's Youth Education manager, during an expert panel discussion.
Campers talk with Matt Bond, Denver Water’s Youth Education manager, during an expert panel discussion.

Regardless of their hometown, each student is assigned the role of a stakeholder — farmer, rancher, water utility manager, Trout Unlimited president or whitewater river rafting outfitter — and then learn the impact of water on their industry.

The three-day experience ends with a town hall meeting where the “stakeholders” discuss solutions on how to manage the limited resource. “The town hall is a great way to teach kids how to work together and discover that everyone has an important voice,” Bond said.

Jericho Hayes, a student from Colorado High School, came away with a new appreciation for the various interest groups. “My stakeholder is the agriculture community,” said Hayes. “It’s fun to think of ways for how they could work with the Water Conservation Board to use less water so everyone benefits.”

The highlight of the camp is when kids present their findings, Miller said.

“It’s just a great feeling to be able to work with these students,” he said. “I’ve literally had tears coming down my face just because you never know what they’re going to take away.”

Check out the sights and sounds from the October 2016 H2O Outdoors camp.

Denver Water’s Youth Education department provides a variety of programs throughout the year. Contact youthed@denverwater.org for information about free programs available to schools and youth organizations.

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