Stewardship program teaches school children about conservation


No small reason for that is the Upper Putah Creek Stewardship program that was put into place 11 years ago. In it are methods maintaining the health of the watershed through training and educational programs that engender participation in ensuring that surface and groundwater is pure and that the balance of nature is maintained. UPCS recently held an Adopt-A-Watershed-sponsored fall retreat and its annual meeting in Middletown, and it is conducting an awareness program, spreading the word at community events and with strategically placed kiosks, among a variety of ways.

"We're just trying to establish a base for where we're at, where is the watershed, what's the health of the watershed, how good is our water, and are there any spots where we should be looking further?" says UPCS Watershed Coordinator Dwight Holford.

"We're not monitors, we're not advocates, we're not going to come and tell you to do this or do that. That's not how we operate."

The bioassessment (using macroinvertebrates - bugs - to test for water quality) program gets strong direction from Holford and Yuba College biology teacher Harry Lyons, its scientific-technological advisor. The grant for this program is now completed. Laboratory costs for this project were provided by the Solano County Water Agency. The Water Agency is responsible for Lake Berryessa water.

UPCS oversees interactive projects for students at Coyote Valley and Middletown schools and co-sponsors a half-dozen three-day citizen monitor training programs for bioassessment training with partners such as West Lake Resource Conservation District. With a $30,000 scholarship, again provided by Adopt-A-Watershed, Future Farmers of America (FFA) teacher Karen Jones and three local students completed a leadership training project this year at Tahoe City Resort.

"There are no state programs here, because, unlike Cache Creek, Upper Putah Creek has not been listed as an endangered waterway," Holford says. "They've never done any studies here of mercury sediment or anything. We want to keep it good, but we also don't want to just cover our eyes and say everything's perfect.

"There are 80 known mercury mine sites in this watershed."

So far, mercury hasn't been tested for in Upper Putah Creek and Holford says that the testing for it may be beyond UPCS' level of sophistication.

"Elemental mercury by itself is not good, but it's not the problem," he said. "Where it becomes a problem is when it gets into an area where it can change and become methylmercury. Then it can be taken into the food chain. Methylmercury is something that bugs can eat, fish can eat, and then when you eat the fish you get the mercury.

"Right now," he added, "there is a fish advisory at Lake Berryessa that says be careful how much you eat, just like in Clear Lake."

For the Steelhead in the Classroom project students study the steelhead by hatching out 30 eggs in a 10-gallon classroom aquarium, maintained at a constant, trout-comfort 60 degrees and insulated to replicate the trout's habitat by keeping it dark at the bottom. The fish are charted every day for six weeks until they reach maturity, then released into their native habitat, the Russian River drainage.

More than 200 students annually come to an event called "Field Days in the Creek," says Holford.

The students also observed the electro-fishing process, courtesy of Rick Macedo of the California Fish and Game Department, learned about rocks from Dean Enderlin, a geologist, and had sessions on hydrology, ecology and the watershed.

Once they've completed their bioassessment training course, adults get fairly active in monitoring the creek.

"We go out and do bioassessment testing with citizen monitors, who are trained to the point that when they take a sample and send it to a lab it will stand up so that we're not perceived as a bunch of amateurs out there," says Holford. "We want to make sure that the samples taken are done correctly and properly analyzed."

Beyond the comprehensive training and educational programs it provides, the stewardship program is keeping pace with the developing population growth in south county.

"It concerns a lot of people for various reasons," Holford acknowledges. "You want to preserve open space, because open space is something you will never have again. Would we like to see a wild fishery reborn here? Yeah, but one of the impediments is that it's all tied up in private property. "So, Fish and Game (Department) isn't going to come in and set up a fishery where there isn't any public fishing."

"In recharge areas like Dead Horse Flat there may be animals of concern," says Holford. "You have to realize that developers have a right to develop and a right to sell. You just want to create an awareness that you have something you are trying to preserve and then you move in and try to do it."

What people need to know, he adds, is that a watershed is much more than a program of treating water. "A watershed is a social aspect, it is infrastructure, it's all the flood water and water that drains off our driveways. It's animals and it's people, the whole thing tied together. A watershed is where we live and includes all the processes taking place in it."

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