Have you ever turned on the tap to wash your hands? Or maybe you’ve gotten a car wash or watered your lawn? Have you ever watched the streets flood with water during a heavy rainfall? Your answer is probably yes. Water is all around us, a part of everything we see and experience but how much do we really know about it? The truth is that we may not know as much as we think. Here in Raleigh the majority of the drinking water comes from the Falls Lake Reservoir. That’s right, the lake! This means that all of the actions we take daily affect the waterways around us. Whether it’s discharge into rivers, the destruction of natural waterways or sediment pollution, the water systems around us are fragile and in order to properly take care of them it’s important to understand the value of them.
This past summer I had the opportunity to intern in the Division of Water Resources within the Department of Environmental Quality. I served as an Education Resource Developer working with Outreach and Education. The goal of Outreach and Education in the Division is to educate citizens about the what, where, why and how of water resources. As an intern my main priorities were to increase the engagement and accessibility of the existing North Carolina Stream Watch Program while also contributing to the creation of water based educational materials and trainings. The North Carolina Stream Watch program is an educational citizen science program that people can use to observe the health and conditions of the streams and rivers around them through an online surveying system. When they complete their online surveys, the information is linked to a public online GIS map where citizens can see what waterways looks like in different parts of the state! As an intern I created new user-friendly surveys, a badge system, on-boarding packets for participants of the program and reformatted the website appearance and content. Along with this I also had the opportunity to create educational materials in the forms of games, infographics etc. and participate in various water education trainings and events.
One of my many interests is understanding how to bridge the gap between people and science. When creating educational or science materials of any kind it is important to be sure that the content can be understood and easily accessed by the public. In order to enhance the NC Stream Watch program, I put my efforts into figuring out how the program could more effectively meet such standards. This program is open to the public and is used by community members, schools, individuals etc. For the program I created a new tiered leveling of surveys for participants to choose from. These levels were stream, river and basin levels. The basin was the hardest level of surveying while the stream was the simplest level of surveying. To accompany these new tiered levels, I created a badge system along with an on boarding kit that contained a newsletter, field guide, guided questions for educational purposes and more. In order to make these new materials easily available I completed website editing and created new videos that helped to explain the function of the program. In order to ensure that my efforts were engaging and accessible I worked with a local high school student who tested out the surveys and materials. This allowed me to see how people interact with water science content and their environment while also providing me with useful feedback for my work. The student was able to point out pieces of my work that didn’t function very well and I was able to create better content because of external critique.
My favorite part of my internship was that I was able to see water resource outreach and education at work. I had the opportunity to attend trainings for teachers and watershed groups and also participate in school visits. During a school visit to a local elementary school in Raleigh, classes played water education games that helped them identify erosion, storm drains, impervious vs. previous surfaces, water quantity, water quality and more. Seeing the children identify and explain what these things were and how they connected back to water resource care was so rewarding and gave me hope that if we continue to educate not only children but people of all ages, we will continue to see a culture shift towards increased stewardship. Through this internship I had the opportunity to see first-hand that education often bridges the gap that exists between people and science. When we make water science and water conservation place based and accessible to people, it creates a new opportunity for understanding.
The biggest takeaway from my summer was that no matter what work you are doing, the ability to tell the story of that work is very important. I believe that this is one of the best ways that we can continue to bridge the gap between people and science. Having the opportunity to learn this skill has helped to prepare me for a career in which I will strive to bridge the gap between vulnerable communities and the complexities of science and policy. Alongside this skill my internship also increased my knowledge of water resources in the State of North Carolina and provided me with a new perspective about the importance of environmental education and how it should be carried out. I had a fantastic summer working with my supervisor, professional staff, watershed groups, teachers and the various employees in the Water Resources Division. I gained many valuable skills and I look forward to applying the knowledge and experience I gained this summer to all of my future endeavors.