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Leelanau Conservany Logo What the New Generation is Saying about Water Quality
by Molly Grosvenor

Growing up in Leelanau county, I never imagined that water could be anything but crystal-clear lakes and rivers clean enough to gulp straight from the source. Summer days found me spending endless hours in the water, returning to land only when the sun fell to the evening sky and the adults started waving their arms. Threats to the vitality and quality of our water resources and the future health of our watershed I didn't consider. As the earth kept spinning round and our region continued to see more development, I realized the importance of not taking the surface beauty of our waterways for granted.

Water bodies integrate all of the forces acting upon them, both natural and human. In many ways, are good indicators of overall environmental health. Some believe that water quality problems occur only where one can see the symbolic smoke stacks of industry. Though we are certainly fortunate to live in a less defiled landscape, we too face some serious water quality issues in northern Michigan. There is a real need for understanding how our watershed operates and to be aware of what impacts our development choices will cause. Whose responsibility is it to protect our water quality? Should we care about protecting it?

One thing for certain is that we can not protect our water resources without accurate information about the water quality. We also need to include local young people, who not only are . GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network) combines the need for gathering scientific information and the importance of educating folks, mainly the youth--the future stewards of the land and water who probably come into actual contact with the water more than anyone--about water quality protection. This year Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative is bringing GREEN's Water Quality Monitoring Program to 28 classrooms in the region. A broad range of water characteristics are charted: dissolved oxygen, pH, total solids, phosphates, nitrates, fecal coliform and a close-up count of the critters-- properly known as benthic macroinvertebrates. All these are compared with a pollution tolerance index. The 28 classes will record their results and then gather for a conference where students will report their findings and have concurrent skill building workshops.

Bill Queen, one of the coordinators for the conference, says that he is expecting over The Whaleback Inn--1-800-WHALEBACK500 students to attend the conference. This includes grades 5-12 from area schools including Kalkaska, Buckley, Forest Area, Traverse City, Crystal Lake, Lake Leelanau, Elk Rapids, Bellaire, Leland, and a group from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa/Chippewa Indians. Members of GREEN learn to apply critical thinking to their daily lives, and to integrate the scientific, economic, political and social disciplines in order to effect positive change within their own watersheds.

Last week I joined the Leland School Environmental Science class for their venture down to the Leland River (also know as Carp River), the site for their testing. It was great to return to Mr. Wessel's science room, where I first learned water was two hydrogens and an oxygen molecule and the life cycle of a toilet flush. When I saw the old lab tables, I remembered how the safety goggles used to leave dents in my forehead for hours after an experiment. Though I was along to "help", the students all knew exactly what they were doing. Instead, I talked with each group about some of the questions that I had been thinking about. I live the supposed life of an adult - job, bills, and all, I feel mostly akin to the young folks in town knowing that we'll be living, working, and enjoying this area together for many years to come. We will face the long term issues growing now and be the characters in the next chapter of "How We Live on this Earth"

I asked Becky Wakefield, sophomore at Leland High School who lives year-round on Little Traverse Lake and loves to swim and fish in the summer thinks that the biggest threat to our aquatci eco-systems is development, "More houses and resorts that want to be on lake sites without taking responsible actions in return. The pollution isn't like the big cities, but it's still a problem".

I wasn't surprised at all when I asked if anyone liked to do things on the water, and excited responses started to fly-- "sailing, swimming, water skiing, tubing, fishing, canoeing, body surfing, etc." Katie Rogers explained, "We all need water to live and since we live on the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water supply, we'll probably have to share with a lot of people."

Abby Chatfield thinks, "It is a good thing we have such long winters, because the water gets a rest from all of the tourists. If they did this same quality testing in the summer the results would be different because there are so many more people."

When I asked for some ideas of what we can all do to protect our water resources, many of the students responded with enthusiasm. Joey Burda said he thought that it was important that people learn how to conserve water and to not be wasteful. Jackie Landry thinks that we can be good examples to newcomers and not litter and pollute the water. Jeff Keen said that we can form more organizations like the Leelanau Conservancy that will work to protect rivers and lakes.

Good idea Jeff! There are many new non-profit organizations in the area that are working to do just that. The Watershed Council was established in the summer of 1989 as a working partnership between four major lake associations in Leelanau County , the Soil and Water Conservation, and the Leelanau Conservancy. The Watershed Council operates programs which will preserve and enhance the aquatic resources of Leelanau County through resource management programs, land and watershed protection, and education. There are many Conservancies in the area which rely entirely on community support.

I think that it is an important thing for us, the young local people, to be involved in the monitoring and protection of our water resources. This is our home, the water shapes our lives just as it does the land. We are effected by the changes that take place in our community perhaps more than anyone, yet we seem to often have the least amount of say in any decisions that take place. It can be a frustrating position to be in. Jason Priest, a Leland High school Senior, summed up what I believe to be the most vital aspect of being the new leaders in the protection of our water and land resources-- "We need to show respect for this area!"

If you are interested in learning more about water quality monitoring programs there are many people to contact. Bill Queen works for the Grand Traverse Watershed Initiative and coordinates student monitoring in the Bay, and can be reached at. (616) 935-1514. The GREEN International office is in Ann Arbor, MI , (313) 761-4951 or via the WWW at GREEN is hosting a conference this summer, "GREEN '96 - Educating for Sustainable Watersheds", which will be held in Ann Arbor July 10-13.

Mike Appel is GREEN's Information Coordinator and fun person to talk to. You can also contact me, Molly Grosvenor, at the Leelanau Conservancy. I'm the Education Coordinator and I'd be happy to tell you about the education programs we have lined up for this spring and summer. Call (616) 256-9665 or e-mail .
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