Taking environmental education to the ‘X-Stream’

Alberta-based outreach program teaches students the value of a healthy watershed

As environmental education goes, this program can really put a bug in your ear.

The X-Stream Science program, operated by the Battle River Watershed Alliance, is finishing up its first field season in east-central Alberta. X-Stream Science offers a hands-on learning experience for students on the importance of healthy watersheds—and one of the most telling barometers is the buzz of insect life in the water.

“We know, for example, that if there are mayflies present, there must be enough oxygen in the water, and that the water itself is relatively clean,” says Nathalie Stanley Olson, the BRWA’s education and outreach coordinator, who leads X-Stream Science outdoor learning sessions.

“What we do want to see is a diversity of species,” she adds. “It’s great to be able to find leeches and scuds and midges, that could live anywhere, as long as we’re finding the mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies that need cleaner water.”

Developed from similar pre-existing programs, and launched last fall by the Camrose-based BRWA through financial support from Enbridge, the X-Stream Science program brings Grade 8 to 12 students from the region out to sites along the Battle River and the creeks that feed into it.

Using scientific protocols, students collect and release those aquatic invertebrates (a.k.a. water bugs), and also conduct water quality tests for pH, conductivity, turbidity, and levels of dissolved oxygen—analyzing and sharing results that are ultimately collected across the watershed.

Currently, the X-Stream Science program involves 10 sites across the Battle River watershed, which covers about 30,000 square kilometres, that are monitored at least once a year by local school classes. In the future, Olson hopes to expand the program to include more potential lake and wetland locations—boosting schools’ participation, and involving community stewardship groups as well.

“Even though this is a relatively new program, we’re getting lots of great feedback—we’ve been told that it makes the education ‘far more real,’ ” says Olson. “And once students see other life in the river, as well, I feel like it will create that more intimate connection.

“That’s a strong mandate that we work with here at the BRWA—that we need to connect people to place,” she adds. “The more we can get out and experience the places we live in, the more likely we are to protect them.”

Our collective future depends on properly caring for the air, land and water. Accordingly, environmental stewardship, education, conservation and remediation are a priority at Enbridge. In the case of X-Stream Science, we’ve donated $20,000 to the BRWA to establish the program, and we expect to continue our sponsorship into the future.

“X-Stream Science demonstrates to students how a healthy watershed affects our ecosystem, our community and our economy—and how important it is to protect and preserve that watershed,” says Gina Jordan, Enbridge’s senior manager of community investment.

“Enbridge’s grants cover student busing, our time, and necessary equipment,” says Olson. “That’s huge. The program probably wouldn’t be able to exist otherwise.”