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No Muddy Waters for Stream Team

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

working with the legislators has been an eye-opener, Lewis said.

"A lot of these students are of voting age, or close to it, so this is a real-life learning experience," Lewis said. "We don't tell them what to think, but we want them to think."

The students also have wielded their political weight on local issues. In 2002, Columbia-based APAC Missouri Inc. was permitted by the Department of Natural Resources to set up a temporary concrete batch plant near the school to supply concrete for a highway project. Area residents were concerned that the operation could harm water quality because the plant would be located close to a sinkhole called Yocum Pond. The students negotiated with the DNR and APAC and were given permission to monitor water quality in the sinkhole.

"Well-informed kids are a very persuasive tool," Rielly said. Chris Schwedtmann, APAC's director of environmental health, called it a "win-win" situation.

"The community was willing to work with our company and the school district to find a workable solution from both ends," Schwedtmann said.

During the summer, the students tested weekly for pH and dissolved oxygen levels in the sinkhole. Each time the levels rose above DNR standards, the student alerted APAC's staff who adjusted operations to regain compliance.

"The Yocum Pond area today is just beautiful," Collins said. "What we emphasize is that we're not teaching them to be environmental activists. We're teaching them to be active environmentalists."

Fast Track To Success

Since its inception in 1993, the Stream Team program now has 2,395 teams statewide. These range from one-person teams to the virtual army that annually removes trash from the entire 40-mile length of the Jacks Fork River. Some teams mobilize entire communities and employ the aid of other agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Stream Teams concept grew from the 1988 Rivers and Streams Conference sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. There, more than 600 people set goals for education, stewardship and public advocacy. One goal was finding public and private resources to implement solutions across jurisdictional lines.

In 1991, a second conference added the sponsorship of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. This pooled the resources of two influential agencies.

"There's just a huge interest in streams and water resources in this state," Rielly said. "Missourians are really genuinely attached to their streams for a variety of reasons: recreation, economics, aesthetics, or they're just curious. And people want to do something to help.With this program, they can do it to whatever level of comfort they have."

Ripples On The Pond

It may be difficult to measure the program's direct impact on state water quality, but judging by the awards the program has received, somebody certainly believes it is making a difference. Missouri's Stream Team program has won more than 50 national and state awards, including recognition from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Those on the front lines are eager to testify about the program's value.

The notebook on water monitoring provided by the Department of Conservation contains quotes from early conservationist Aldo Leopold who said, "Everything's connected to everything else."

The dedicated science teachers at Reeds Spring High School relish watching students as they begin to understand that concept.

"When they come in the door, and they're excited about science, it's easy to teach," Collins said. "They're like little sponges willing to soak it up."

Amber Spohn, who is barely out of her teens, has taken her concept of connection far beyond her local swimming hole.

"Not only do I hope my passion transfers to the younger generations and to other people," Spohn said, "I hope it spreads throughout the United States and eventually throughout the world."

For information on establishing a team, call (800) 781-1989 or go online.

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