Fifth-grade students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary trekked along a trail, across the road, down a hill and over a small stream to Slikok Creek on a scientific fact-finding mission this Tuesday.
Suzanne Klaben’s class met Melissa Steritz of the Kenai Watershed Forum at Slikok Creek for their monthly evaluation of the water’s health as part of the Adopt-A-Stream program.
“The students from K-Beach have been coming to Slikok Creek since 1990,” Klaben said. “They come down and run a variety of tests, making sure it’s healthy for salmon.”
Before breaking out the test tubes, though, Steritz asked the students to take a moment to enjoy being outside and to notice anything that has changed with their stream since their last visit.
“We see changes every time we come. Like today, there are mushrooms on the tree and that tree over there keeps falling down further and further,” said Samantha Peterson, one of the students. “And there is less snow on the trees.”
Then, while sporting their bright green safety goggles, the students tested the water’s acidity, turbidity, conductivity, pH level and temperature.
“It’s really fun. We usually do our tests and the results are really amazing. It’s amazing how cold the creek gets,” said student Riley Mills while filling a test tube with creek water.
Through the program, students are given the chance to perform scientific tests that are needed and valued, Klaben said. One year, the students discovered that someone had diverted the creek and were able to help solve the problem, she said.
“We’ve had students that have gone on to careers in water science because of this program,” she said. “Because they were inspired by this program.”
A class favorite was the turbidity test, which measures the clarity of the water. The students are tasked with testing for “floaties,” the small particles that can cause haziness or cloudiness in the water.
“My favorite is floaties. We fill the big test tube with water and then we look down and see how far the fish can see. There is a checkered bottom on the test tube and if we can see the checkers the fish can see the checkers,” said student Cody Henley. “We pour water out until we can see the checkers and it tells us how far the fish can see.”
Students took turns looking down the long test tube to see how far the fish can see. On Tuesday, the water was clear enough for them to see the checkered bottom from 110 centimeters.
“All of this is really interesting and it’s helping them practice to be citizen scientists in the future so they can stay engaged with their watersheds and they can be aware of what are healthy levels for all the wildlife,” Steritz said.
Steritz works with 36 classrooms throughout Kenai Peninsula Borough School District from Kenai to Homer. Once a month, she’ll spend a day in the classroom with the students, going over different environmental science topics and then they will go into the field the next day where they build skills they can use outside of the Adopt-A-Stream program.
“One thing, that is really important at this time is that we are seeing some of our salmon streams are getting warmer and I’m encouraging students to keep track of that. Even over the summer, when they go down by the creeks they can just take the temperature and keep track of it,” Steritz said. “So, even once they’re out of the program, they’ll be empowered to have skills to be citizen scientists.”
The program, which began in 1994, has been run by Kenai Watershed Forum since 2004. The group is currently working to find funding to continue the program next year.
The forum also offers a summer camp program where students can continue creek tests and further explore nature, Steritz said.