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Area students learn water protection from groundwater festival

Riley Middle School sixth-grader Erin Haeflinger, 12, looks a macroinvertebrate pulled from a creek Tuesday at the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Center in Woodstock. The McHenry County Schools Environmental Education Program held a day teaching middle school students about ground water quality and water pollution.

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County middle school students got a chance to get out of the classroom Tuesday and learn about groundwater protection first-hand.

The spring 2013 McHenry County Schools Youth Groundwater Festival was held at Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus Tuesday giving students hands-on lessons on where drinking water comes from and how to keep it healthy.

Students were able to walk from station to station, testing the quality of groundwater, measuring water levels, and learning about ways to reduce their water usage.

“Groundwater is so important in McHenry County because all of our drinking water comes from the ground,” said Bethany Gola, director of the McHenry County Schools Environmental Education Program. “A lot times kids don't know where it comes from. They turn on the faucet, and they think it comes just from the water tower … or they think it's coming from a lake.”

Tuesday was the second groundwater festival put on by McHenry County Schools. About 150 students took part in the day-long festival, including students from Northwood Middle School and Creekside Middle School in Woodstock, Riley Middle School in Marengo, and St. Peter and Paul School in Cary.

Gola said the most important part of the festival is that students are able to see water protection up close, giving them a visual to go along with what they learn in the classroom.

“A lot of times ecology and going green can become buzz words for kids,” Gola said. “They know it, they get it, they've been doing it. But when they are able to get outside and come together as kids and fellow students, they get a chance to see how it actually relates to their life.”

One station was led by McHenry County Chief Stormwater Engineer Cory Horton, who taught students about how the county protects the roads while also protecting drinking water.

“We're teaching the kids about the connection between salt and groundwater, and how the salt that we put on the roads ends up getting down into our groundwater and what the county's doing to try to minimize how much salt we have to put down on the roads and still keep the roads safe,” Horton said.

The idea for a groundwater festival came from Rock Valley College in Rockford, and the county planning and development department felt the instruction would be beneficial here in McHenry County, Gola said.

The festival received funding from the McHery County Regional Office of Education, the McHenry County Cooperative for Employment Education, and the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development Water Resources Division.

"We're doing a lot of education on where your water comes from and why its so important to keep it healthy," Gola said. "It's building an awareness and an appreciation for where our water comes from."

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