Family fun night teaches importance of ground water

The Madison Watershed Partnership teamed up with Big Sky Watershed Corps to teach youngsters and their parents the ins-and-outs of groundwater Wednesday evening.

To commemorate National Groundwater Awareness week, the two organizations teamed up to host Family Fun Night at Ennis Elementary School. The event paired treats with education sessions geared both to children and adults.

“This event helps get the message out to adults while introducing the little ones to groundwater issues,” said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, Madison Watershed Partnership Coordinator. “As a parent, sometimes I can’t go to things that are specifically geared towards adults since I can’t bring my kids. This is a way we could get adults in to learn a little bit while giving the kids something to do.”

In Montana, 94 percent of people rely on groundwater as their main source of water, and in Madison County alone, there are 5,000 wells. In addition, 30 percent of stream water is groundwater. So it’s safe to say, a majority of participants on Wednesday have a strong connection with the water that flows under their feet.

“We are lucky to have good water in Madison County,” said Heikes-Knapton. “We need to focus on preventative education since the well-owner is the only one tasked with taking care of the well.”

Those that attended got a hands-on and tasty opportunity to see how aquifers can be contaminated. Kids eagerly lined up to create their own edible aquifers. A layer of grapes created a confined aquifer. Yogurt layers on top of that represented clay while raisins stood in for gravel. Granola topped off the edible project as “sand.” Milk then filtered its way through the different layers just as groundwater would.

Once the parfait in the shape of a real aquifer was created, a layer of contaminated water, which was actually milk with red food coloring, was dumped on top. The kids jammed a straw through the mixture as a way to demonstrate the effects of installing a well. Fascinated chitter-chatter echoed throughout the school cafeteria as the children watched their “contaminated” water mix with the white milk groundwater. And then the time came to eat their aquifer creations.

“You can all suck on your aquifer now,” said Ethan Kunard, an AmeriCorps Vista member who represents the Big Sky Watershed Corps. “Do you taste that contaminated water?”

The kids giggled and dug in with spoons. Parents in attendance didn’t let their kids have all the fun. They created their own edible aquifers and enjoyed the snack right along with their kids.
The adults then stayed inside to watch a short informational video on well and septic care, and kids ventured outside to see how water flows using a groundwater-flow model.

Once outside, the children crowded around a table while Ethan used different colors to represent how contaminants affect different source of groundwater and how wells can spread those contaminants. Each child eagerly jumped at their chance to “pollute” the water with different food colors.

Parents joined their kids at the end of the presentation to answer some quiz questions about the basics of aquifers and how to prevent pollution of groundwater. The adults were encouraged to take home free well-testing programs.

This family fun night marks one of the first times the Madison Watershed Partnership has created an educational presentation geared specifically towards groundwater. The Watershed Partnership has instituted different well-testing programs in the past as well as involving local kids in stream monitoring and wildlife education programs.

The Madison Watershed Partnership covers a broad range of things involved with resources, and since a majority of homeowners in the area rely on domestic wells, groundwater is something that needed to be added to the different educational programs the organization offers. The Madison Watershed itself originates in Yellowstone Park and extends 130 miles to where the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers converge to form the Missouri River.

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