During this week’s Ocean of Possibles summer reading program, children learned about the Pearl River watershed.
On Tuesday afternoon, several children were able to discover, explore and learn about the Pearl River catchment thanks to Jeanne Allen of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reading Program event. summer held at the Margaret Reed Memorial Library.
Allen taught children what affects water systems and how they can keep them clean.
The Pearl River watershed is the largest watershed in the United States, draining over three million square miles of land. Allen taught the children that the EPA’s primary concerns were with air and water, two of the most important elements of the environment. Even though the EPA is generally known for regulating these aspects of the environment, Allen’s Department is different because it helps improve water quality throughout Mississippi.
Allen brought a watershed model so the kids could see exactly how it works.
Once the model was in place, the children simulated a garden or a farm by adding soil and fertilizer, the simulation of which was represented by sugar. Allen then showed the children what happens if they add a lot of fertilizer to a garden, demonstrating how it will run off during bouts of rain and end up in rivers. Allen allowed a child to simulate rain on the farm using a spray bottle. As the children sprinkled water on the model, they saw the ground affected by the runoff from the rain.
Allen then showed them what a wetland is.
“It’s a low area that will pick up runoff from another area,” Allen said.
In the model, the children saw the water runoff coming down the stream. The purpose of a wetland is to filter water and help absorb it into the soil, along with fertilizers. The filtration process cleans the water, making the water a recyclable resource.
In the model, the children saw the stream reach the wetland and separate the soil and fertilizer from the water.
“Wetlands are very important to our river system and streams. That’s why wetlands play an important role,” Allen said.
Wetlands also keep harmful elements of local wildlife out so that they don’t inhale or drink toxic water. Because of this process, there is a time of year when people cannot eat oysters. After heavy rains, the oyster harvest is stopped because the bacteria picked up by the oysters make them toxic and sicken those who consume them. Allen said after taking water samples and a two-week waiting period, the oysters are then allowed to be harvested if they pass the test.
Allen also showed the kids what happens to oil at gas stations. In the watershed model, Allen used soy sauce to represent oil left on the ground at a gas station by a vehicle. The children learned that oil in small doses does no harm, but large amounts are dangerous. During the demonstration, the children saw the oil spreading and seeping into the ground. Allen taught the children that the process affects residents with private wells.
The children also discovered the hypoxic zone of the Gulf of Mexico. This happens during the summer and it is a low oxygen zone which can kill fish and marine life near the sea floor.
Allen said the difference between ocean water and the hypoxic zone can be seen from a boat. The hypoxic zone is created by heavy rains and snowmelt washing away huge amounts of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) from lawns, sewage treatment plants, farmlands and other sources.
Allen closed the lesson by challenging the children to pick up the trash whenever they saw it. Picking up waste will prevent it from flowing downstream and prevent harmful bacteria from reaching the gulf.