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CGLA Students Explore Water Quality

CGLA students sort through creek debris for macro invertebrates. (Image: Tennessee Aquarium)

Despite its vital importance to human communities and native wildlife, many people take access to clean water for granted.

Thursday, as part of a yearlong mentorship program with Tennessee American Water, 10 eighth graders from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy (CGLA) visited the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to discover, first hand, the factors that impact water quality, from the watershed to the tap.

“One of our goals is to have the schools in our area involved in a lot of the things we’re doing,” says Hayley Wise, the conservation institute’s watershed educator. “Clean water isn’t just a concern for the scientific community.

“It will take a community-wide effort to make the Southeast aquatic system better. By bringing students here, we can help make sure this and other environmental issues can be addressed by all of us.”

During their visit, the students had an up-close encounter with macro-invertebrates, creatures like aquatic insects and crayfish, that were recovered from a nearby stream. Later, liquids poured over a terrain model showed them how water interacts with the landscape and impacts water sources.

The students also tested water samples from various sources, including the Tennessee River, the building’s drinking water and from the facilities used by scientists to raise Southern Appalachian Brook Trout.

Through these activities and discussions with conservation scientists, the students discovered the many ways the Conservation Institute monitors the health of our water sources. They learned how traces of improperly disposed prescription medications can linger in waterways and the many dangers posed by microplastics — plastic particulate which serve as magnets for water-born pollutants and which can work their way into all levels of the food chain.

“Having students out to the conservation institute lets them see real science happening,” Wise says. “It’s really important for the kids to see that scientists are out there working on conservation issues and to show them what we’re doing.”

This visit is the latest in an months-long mentorship between the CGLA students and Tennessee American Water. Among the many benefits of seeing freshwater science being conducted in a real world scenario, the visit should help broaden students’ horizons and open their eyes to new life paths, says Tennessee American Water’s president, Valoria Armstrong.

“We meet [with the students] once a month and expose the girls to various experiences to have them think about career choices,” Armstrong says. “We try to make it as interactive as possible and are glad to give them this unique venue to learn about the connection between the natural water source to the finished drinking water in their homes.”

How You Can Help

· Skip the straw — Plastic is the most prevalent type of debris in aquatic environments, and single-use plastics, such as drinking straws, are a major source of this pollution. Over time, these items break down but don’t fully biodegrade, creating fragments (microplastics) that can be consumed by animals, impacting their ability to feed as well as contaminating the seafood people enjoy. Instead of a plastic straw, use an alternative, reusable sipping device made from paper, metal, glass or even bamboo.

· Fertilize with Care — With the arrival of fall, many homeowners are engaged in seasonal planting, but using too much fertilizer can affect plants’ ability to absorb water and can contaminate nearby streams when the excess is carried away by stormwater run-off. To prevent this, follow the label instructions carefully to mix the fertilizer accurately and only use it during the appropriate time of year.

· Don’t Flush Your Meds — Any pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink inevitably end up in a body of water. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 28, Tennessee American Water is hosting an official drug take-back. Residents can visit 14 drop-off locations to hand over unused and unwanted medications for proper disposal and keep them out of local waterways. Additional info is at http://amwater.com/tnaw

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