Microscopes for SRT’s “What’s in Your Water?” Campaign

Boy tests macroinvertebrates in pond

Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT) just purchased seven microscopes for the Environmental Education program, thanks to a grant from REI. The microscopes have a glass prism that captures light and beams it up into the scope, eliminating the need for electricity and making them perfect for outdoor use.* These microscopes will be instrumental to SRT’s “What’s In Your Water?” campaign to teach kids about water quality issues in our region. The project runs from approximately January through early May (due to water flow). Students from 6th through 12th grades are encouraged to join in the campaign to learn more about their drinking water and what they can do to keep it clean. For more information, email laura@sequoiariverlands.org or call 559-738-0211, ext. 103.

The “What’s in Your Water?” project will take kids out to Dry Creek Preserve (Woodlake/Lemon Cove) and the James K. Herbert Wetland Prairie Preserve (Tulare/Lindsay) to monitor water quality by scooping macroinvertebrates from streams and pools and examining them under microscopes. Each species of macroinvertebrate can tolerate a different level of pollution: some need extremely clean water, and others can live in very polluted water. By tallying up the number of ‘clean’ vs ‘dirty’ species, we can determine an overall pollution level. Additionally, SRT now has chemistry test kits that will allow the students to detect levels of specific pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. The results of the students’ water quality monitoring projects will be kept on file to help SRT manage its waterways.

It is important that we keep these water systems pollution-free. Clean water helps bolster wildlife populations and it replenishes our aquifers with good, clean water. Visalia gets 100% of its water from wells, which tap into an aquifer fed by rivers and ponds in our area.

Pollutants get into the groundwater when they are pushed down by irrigation or precipitation. Many pollutants come from over-use of pesticides and fertilizers. They also come from leaky gas stations and cars. Nitrogen, in particular, is a very prevalent polluter in this region. In Tulare County, at least 40% of wells contain illegal levels of nitrates. High levels of nitrates cause ‘blue baby syndrome,’ where babies cannot absorb enough oxygen into their blood to breathe properly. It also causes stillbirths and cancer. Nitrates aren’t the only problem, though. There are illegal pollutant levels in 75% of our wells.

*We ordered the microscopes from Acorn Naturalists, an outdoor education materials supplier. The scopes were paid for by a generous grant from REI, the popular outdoor recreation equipment store.

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