Summer is over, but about 180 fifth- and sixth-grade students from southwestern Manitoba still hit the lake Sept. 20.
Six schools attended the 13th annual Southwest Manitoba Water Festival, hosted by the Turtle Mountain Conservation District and Assiniboine Hills Conservation District at Whitewater Park east of Elgin.
The event draws from all schools in the districts’ range, except those in Brandon.
“It went over really well actually,” Yasemin Keeler, Turtle Mountain Conservation District manager, said. “We had a great day for it. The sun was shining, so we can’t complain.”
Neil Zalluski, Assiniboine Hills Conservation District manager, said the day’s activities remain largely the same year to year.
Students got hands on with water issues at nine stations at the event, ranging from boat safety to ecological impacts in water systems.
“One of the favourite ones is the critter dipping,” Zalluski said. “We pull out invertebrates out of the water and the kids get time to go through them and figure out what they are and there’s identification sheets there that they can use.”
A display of animal furs, combined with a discussion of the food chain presented by a visiting wildlife biologist, was also a hit, he added.
Stations echo the students’ curriculum, Keeler said.
Students played out the water cycle at one such station, while others dug into more complex issues such as erosion, flow velocity and riparian vegetation’s role in filtering nutrients and sediment before they reach major water bodies.
“They also got to do some tree boring and age the tree and stuff, so they got to do some forestry skills with that as well,” Keeler said.
River Watch, a water quality monitoring program geared for junior high students, was also highlighted.
Offered through the South Central Eco Institute, the program gathers water quality data from largely student-drawn samples. Data is made publicly available on the program’s website. The online presence allows participants to upload test results and compare either their own water quality over time or access data from other regions and watersheds.
The program blankets watersheds in southwestern Manitoba and spreads east through the Lower Red River, Seine and Rat river watersheds.
“What we did at that station was just a little sneak peak, basically, of the program,” Keeler said.
Students were walked through the water-sampling process and discussed uses for the data.
Keeler noted a higher attendance this year, mostly due to larger class sizes in two schools. Annual attendance generally ranges from 150 to 200 students.
The two conservation districts split schools inside their region and alternate invitations each year. This year, schools from Hartney, Deloraine, Waskada, Glenboro, Souris and the Newdale Hutterite Colony were invited.
The event is the Turtle Mountain Conservation District’s main youth outreach of the year outside of select school visits and smaller single class events, Keeler said. The conservation district also supports the Oak Hammock Marsh on-the-go programs, which organizes off-site interpretive events.