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Intern Kayla  Baker reports on the excellent IdaH2O Master Water Steward program she attended last month. Programs like these (including forestry and master gardening) at the University of Idaho Extension could be threatened in the Kootenai County budget process.

The IdaH2O Master Water Steward Program, offered by the University of Idaho Extension, is only a year old but shows promise in educating North Idaho citizens about water quality monitoring. From my experience with the program, I believe that it is an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the health of our local water systems. In just a day, citizen volunteers learn how to assess streams and lakes on a number of bases: habitat (riparian and canopy cover, streambed substrate, human use, etc.), physical (water transparency, stream width and depth, stream velocity, etc.), chemical (water pH levels, dissolved oxygen levels, amount of nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous), and biological (survey of present invertebrates).

The program’s lecture portion is to the point and is enlightening. I feel the most important thing one will learn from this seminar is how human use of water can impair water quality; for example, the overuse of fertilizers containing phosphorous or nitrate can lead to a lack of oxygen in the water, which is dangerous for the aquatic ecosystem as a whole. Following the lecture period, volunteers are given a hands-on experience to apply themselves in a local stream. This is important for program goers, as they are given the optional task of carrying out annual water monitoring on a stream of their choice, and are given all the tools required to carry out the monitoring. The IdaH2O program hopes that the data collected by their certified water stewards will someday help agencies institute standards for water quality in the area.

I was very fortunate to take part in the program due to my internship at the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. After taking a course in Environmental Science at North Idaho College, I find the IdaH2O program to be a great supplement in a hands-on and more personal way. Personally, my favorite aspect of the course was biological assessment, as I hope to become a wildlife biologist in the future. It is important to me to see that our water systems have an appropriate amount of biodiversity in order to keep a healthy balance of life, and it is essential that close attention is paid to organisms that serve as indicators of environmental health.

With what I have gained from this program, I hope to make a change as a student. I am currently forming a student environmental group at North Idaho College, and I am planning to start a water monitoring site and include student members in assessment. This will hopefully culminate in a campus-based campaign to raise awareness of how to keep our watershed healthy.

I am glad to have the opportunity to take this class, and I hope that many citizens will take a little time to discover how truly important water is, and hopefully to discover our true duty as stewards to our community and our planet.

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