Clean Water Corner: A Good Story

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Kids doing stream monitoring

We’ve all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d argue that a good story is much more valuable than a few photographs.

There is no denying that we live in a digital age. As people spend more time online, they are less likely to enjoy the outdoor experiences that League members value. Yet it not only benefits their health to spend time in nature, it’s critical to recruiting conservationists who understand the value of our natural resources.

One way to move people from screen time to “green” time is through storytelling. Whether you’re describing the smell and “taste” of fresh mountain air during a fall hike, the exhilaration of the chase on your last deer hunt, or simply the feel of the soil in your hands while harvesting garden vegetables, storytelling builds connections for someone who has not had that experience themselves.

Anyone who has attended a Save Our Streams training knows that our trainers (myself included) weave stories throughout the process. It makes our trainings more interesting and helps new stream monitors retain the information. Here’s a story I often share at trainings:

One of my most memorable stream monitoring experiences was with a group of elementary school students in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was a beautiful spring day, and the students were having a great time trying to find stream critters with their D-nets. I was a little bit concerned that we weren’t finding much – just a few black fly larvae and midges, both known for their tolerance to pollution.

Then a student ran up to me with something I had never seen before: what looked like an oblong maggot with a long tail. In the midst of the excitement, I flipped through my macroinvertebrate ID book and found a picture that matched the wriggling creature. The caption: “Rat Tailed Maggot: Lives in anaerobic conditions like sewage.”

I slammed the book shut in shock. We were probably wading in raw sewage overflow! We spent the last few minutes of our afternoon playing games on the grass – with sanitized hands.

The kids all had a great experience, but I woke up the next day with pink eye in both eyes – confirmation that we were indeed wading in a sewage leak of some sort. I reported it to the county health department and got myself some antibiotic eye drops.

The lessons learned: 1) wash your hands immediately after stream monitoring to prevent getting sick (we’d rather be safe than sorry), and 2) we need volunteer stream monitors now more than ever to find problems and report them. If we hadn’t been out in that stream, no one would have known about a real pollution problem in their community.

If this story caused a gut reaction, great – it was meant to! After hearing about my experience, the volunteers I train are more likely to be mindful about touching their faces after coming into contact with untreated stream water. And they understand how important their work is. That’s exactly why I tell them this story.

We use stories to make people care and to provoke a reaction. There are so many ways storytelling can help Ikes accomplish our goals. Fighting nutrient pollution? Talk about how your family was affected when the source of your drinking water was declared unsafe. Worried about the water in your community streams? Share what you’ve found out so far – and the impact pollution can have on your whole family, pets included.

Hear more stories like this: Attend a Save Our Streams training