Many of even the youngest area residents know what an aquifer is.
An H2O for Life initiative is teaching pupils in the White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi school districts about water resources and encouraging them to conserve water. A Minnesota GreenCorps educator is visiting classes and before- and after-school programs to lead hands-on lessons, conservation challenges and service projects.
It’s not quite as developed yet, but another arm of the H2O for Life program called Race 2 Reduce aims to also educate local grownups and make available low-cost kits with home conservation tools.
H2O for Life is a White Bear Lake nonprofit best known for partnering with schools nationwide to educate about global water issues and fundraise for wells and other water and sanitation projects in developing countries.
Race 2 Reduce is a new, locally focused endeavor launched this summer in partnership with area cities, school districts, the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative and others.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s GreenCorps provided Sarah Alexander for the school year to lead the school lessons. She has visited or has plans to soon visit most of the District 624 schools and Mahtomedi Middle School. She’s available to lead lessons for any class or club that requests her, she said. She customizes the lessons depending on the grade level and amount of time available. She visits most classes at least twice.
Using White Bear Lake as her example and models to help illustrate, Alexander explains about groundwater, aquifers and pollution.
She doesn’t take sides on the cause of the low lake level or whether communities should convert to surface water. Some believe too much pumping is to blame while others believe it’s just natural climate variation, she told fourth- and fifth-graders during a recent visit to Birch Lake Elementary.
“The Earth only has a finite supply of water … so even if we don’t know what exactly is causing the lake to be so low, it’s still a good idea to conserve,” she told students.
She educates pupils about how much water they use every day — 100 gallons on average in the U.S. “In addition to the water we drink and use to brush our teeth, we use water in a lot of other parts of our lives,” she told Birch Lake students.
She gives each pupil a chart and asks them to track how many times per day they use water for daily tasks including showering, washing dishes and flushing the toilet. For each task the chart notes the typical water consumption for each time or per minute (a shower, for example, uses on average two gallons of water per minute).
In return visits, Alexander leads pupils in calculating their daily water use and comparing their use volumes to those of their classmates and people across the world. Then classes discuss opportunities to reduce their water consumption and calculate how much water they can conserve (taking a five-minute instead of eight-minute shower each day saves 42 gallons a week, for example). Finally, students are challenged to set specific conservation goals for themselves.
“We’re hoping students will take on this call to action and can be leaders of change,” Alexander said.
In addition to teaching lessons, Alexander also is helping the White Bear Lake Area High School-South Campus Ambassadors form an environmental committee. Their initial plans include making a video promoting water conservation. They also are painting rain barrels and plan to sell them to teachers, parents and community members. Proceeds will go toward the school’s goal of raising $3,000 to help build latrines for a school for blind children in Uganda.
Race 2 Reduce also is holding a poster contest in which students of all ages are invited to create posters promoting water conservation (deadline is Feb. 20 and details can be found on h2oforlifeschools.org).
The community outreach component of Race 2 Reduce is being lead by Paul Steinhauser. Early educational efforts have included a booth at Marketfest and sponsoring a hole at the Bear’ly Open last weekend.
Tentatively beginning this spring, Race 2 Reduce plans to offer $20 “home makeover kits” that will include items to help reduce water use, such as faucet aerators, shower heads that turn off after four minutes and lawn moisture meters.
“We want people to understand that residential water use does make an impact and we could easily reduce it without dramatically changing our lifestyle,” Stenhaueser wrote on the Race 2 Reduce blog.
H2O for Life has received more than $31,000 in grants to support Race 2 Reduce, including $10,000 from the Xcel Energy Foundation. Program leaders are applying for more grants to continue and expand in the White Bear area and beyond.
“This innovative community engagement model is one that we hope to replicate in other communities in Minnesota and across the nation dealing with water conservation issues,” Alexander said.
Sen. Chuck Wiger has authored a bill seeking $200,000 in state funding to expand the Race 2 Reduce curriculum.
“I applaud this group’s forward-thinking ideas and their strategy of educating young people that water is a limited resource and must not be taken for granted,” Wiger wrote in a press release. He added: “Teaching our next generation to embrace water conservation practices early on while also educating the community at large is the best thing we can do to protect our natural resources.”