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Event teaches how to keep water clean with hands-on demonstrations

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MARION, Iowa — For a few minutes, Mary Skopec with the Iowa DNR has the undivided attention of three young people, as she dips a test strip into Indian Creek, waiting for it to change color.

“I’m going to put that in there and let it do it’s thing,” Skopec said.

“Sit and wait?” Peter Kamp of Marion asked her.

She replied, “sit and wait, yeah.”

Hands full and feet wet, these youngsters were learning how something big like water quality impacts them at this little stream in Thomas Park on Saturday morning. It was one of the League of Women Voters’ sponsored Clean Streams and Waterways events.

Skopec was showing them how to test for bad things, like too much phosphorus or nitrogen.

“Bad water means it doesn’t have that much oxygen,” said Natalie Bauer, “and the water has too much chemicals and salt.”

Skopec sent them home with their very own testing kits, and Peter Kamp already knew how he’d use his.

“I’ve got a well, so I’m going to see how good my well is,” Kamp told us.

Mary Ann Nelson, vice president of the League of Women Voters in Linn County, said some of this is taught in classrooms, but not always with this level of interaction.

“There is often not the expertise right in the schools, or the events to be able to have hands-on,” Nelson explained.

It’s a great way for kids to learn about water conservation, but Kasey Hutchinson, stormwater coordinator for the City of Cedar Rapids, said there’s plenty for grown-ups to learn, too. Especially when it comes to their city’s stormwater system.

Her job is to keep that water clean.

“Inspecting construction sites to make sure sediment and other pollutants aren’t getting off-site and into the stormwater system,” Hutchinson said. But events like this are a great way for her to let people living in Cedar Rapids know, there’s plenty they can do, too.

“That could maybe be through rainscaping, where you implement a number of measures such as rain barrels,” Hutchinson told us.

And little things like cleaning up after your dog and not fertilizing your lawn keep pollutants out of stormwater.

“I think a lot of people have this misconception that it’s treated. In actuality, it’s not. It’s carried away by your stormwater system directly into streams and rivers,” Hutchinson explained.

The League of Women Voters will hold a Clean Streams and Waterways panel discussion in mid-September.

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