Guest Contributor: Jenna Kulluson
When exploring the outdoor exhibits at the High Desert Museum in Bend, OR the coastal watershed connection isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind, but that was not the case in early February when fourteen Central Oregon educators went out in search of water. While the coast sees much more rain than communities in the high desert (North Bend averages 65 inches/year while Bend sees closer to 11 inches) communities across Oregon still must think about what to do with excess rainwater, or stormwater runoff.
The Oregon Coast Education Program (OCEP) has been providing field based professional development and curriculum to 3rd-12th grade teachers since 2009. With funding from the NOAA B-WET program, OCEP began as a partnership between four coastal institutions, offering teacher workshops in Coos Bay and Newport, and creating education modules focused on coastal ecosystems. Shortly thereafter, OCEP gained two inland partners with the High Desert Museum and Portland State University’s Center for Science Education and added coastal education trainings for teachers located in the Willamette Valley and east of the Cascades. This recent set of community workshops aims to focus on discovering human impacts to watersheds and infiltration processes while making connections to the incoming Next Generation Science Standards.
Armed with local maps, a few tools, and a good sense of curiosity, the group set out to discover how the museum manages their stormwater runoff in a developed setting much like that of nearby communities. Historically, the high desert had undeveloped, permeable surfaces that efficiently soaked up large amounts of rainwater from storms into groundwater systems or nearby streams. However, when impermeable surfaces like asphalt roads and buildings were added, the excess water had to go somewhere. The group devised an experiment to see how different variables could impact infiltration rates on the local grounds. After digging test pits and watching water soak into them, teachers engaged in lively discussions about how the plant community, recent burns, livestock grazing, nearby parking lots, and soil types could impact the infiltration rate.
With the infiltration exploration under their belts, the group set off in search of drains, ditches, and potential human impacts to the watershed. This is one workshop where a recent rainstorm provides the much-needed clues for reading the landscape and following the pathways. Following the water’s path helped participants recognize examples of non-point source pollution, and discover that contaminants picked up from developed areas can run off into nearby rivers and, ultimately, reach the ocean. Discussing ways that communities deal with related problems and ways that students could help solve these issues was inspiring for everyone involved.
The Oregon Coast STEM Hub is one of three STEM Hubs that are helping to sponsor this set of workshops this winter. OCEP will be returning to the coast on February 28th for the last Stormwater Pathways workshop and hoping for a big rainstorm the day before! While the facilitators are excited to get back to familiar territory, the lessons learned from working in new settings in urban Beaverton and the High Desert Museum will help connect all Oregon teachers to stormwater and the ocean, and help them bring students outside on a meaningful watershed experiences while integrating the science and engineering practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. One thing is for sure, no one involved will ever look at a stormdrain again without wondering “where does it go from here?”
Jenna Kulluson is a coordinator for the Oregon Coast Education Program, as well as an educator at South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Director of the Oregon Chapter of the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators, and a member of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Communications Committee. OCEP is a collaborative effort involving several Oregon Coast STEM Hub partner institutions, as well as leaders from the Portland Metro STEM Partnership and the Central Oregon STEM Hub.