AUBURNDALE — Hands on learning and real life lessons are two reasons Auburndale science teacher Jim Farrell started doing water testing on Mill Creek 13 years ago.
“We had a librarian (at Auburndale) whose husband was a soil conservationist. He told me about this project, WAV — Water Action Volunteer — that was starting in Wood County and Mill Creek was on of the projects,” Farrell said. “I jumped on board right away because I knew this was going to be a good learning tool for my biology kids and eventually my chemistry kids.”
Auburndale science and agriculture students presented on how they conduct the water testing during the Farmers of Mill Creek Watershed fall meeting, held Dec. 5 near Stevens Point. Students discussed the technology that they use and lessons learned through the project.
Farrell said he thought the project would be a good experience for the students.
“We go to a site in our school district, which has Mill Creek running through it. The students have a connection because many of them either live near it or are associated with it somehow,” he said.
The students go to a site upstream that is relatively clear and has good water flow. They test the water temperature, stream flow, organisms, dissolved oxygen and turbidity or how many sediments are in the water. They also look at the streambed and surrounding stream banks to see overall health of the area.
Stream health was the major reason why the Department of Natural Resources started the project. Farrell said there is a lot of runoff from agriculture, the road and other sources into the stream. The DNR wanted to track the health of the stream as it moves toward the Wisconsin River and the environmental impact of runoff sources.
“There are other people who do testing downstream so that the DNR can look at how the stream compares,” he said. “Right now, (Mill Creek) gets darker and there is more sediments and less organisms (as you get closer to the Wisconsin River).”
To prepare the students for the project, Farrell talks with them in class about the various water tests, focusing on water chemistry including pH and dissolved oxygen.
“One test that is very important is dissolved oxygen because that determines the organisms that live in the stream and how runoff changes the dissolved oxygen levels,” he said. “What we have found is that where we test, the stream is healthy and hasn’t changed much in the last few years.”
The students usually go out to the site twice a year, depending on the weather.
Farrell said this is a project he plans to continue in the future because it is something both the students and he enjoys. He said he could see the value down the road of the lessons learned for his students.
“Even if they are farming, they might remember some of the things that were taught and learned in this lesson and make sure that the things they are putting in the field are not running off into the stream,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be directly related to soil conservation or the DNR, but just by living near the stream you can learn about how it can be affected by what you do.”