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WaterWise: Empowering Students Through Stormwater Education

May 15, 2024

By Stephanie Kozak, Park Interpreter

At Hudson Mills Metropark, we are embarking on an exciting new initiative called WaterWise: Empowering Students Through Stormwater Education. This initiative arose from our desire to spotlight one of the park’s most valuable resources—the Huron River. Aligned with our new Climate Action Plan, our aim is to achieve several key goals outlined by the Metroparks, including expanding outdoor education opportunities with an emphasis on skill development for effective environmental stewardship and providing resources for underprivileged and hard-to-reach communities.

Students examining organisms from the Huron River.

When selecting a school to collaborate with on this project, we sought one within the Huron River Watershed, close to the river itself, and focused on serving an underserved population. Our research indicated that existing educational programs in Washtenaw County primarily targeted students in 3rd grade and above, with a strong emphasis on 4th, 5th, and high school levels. However, there was a notable gap in programming for second graders. We saw this as an opportunity to fill that void and create valuable resources for 2nd grade teachers and students.

After engaging with multiple schools, we established a partnership with Ypsilanti International Elementary School for several reasons. It’s a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) school that actively supports projects like ours. Moreover, its proximity to Frog Island Park along the Huron River provides students with a direct connection to the waterway, enhancing their understanding of the river and its watershed.

In discussions with the school’s educators, we decided to design a project that integrates various aspects of STEAM while empowering students to take meaningful action in their community. This led us to focus on Stormwater Stenciling—an initiative where students label storm drains and inlets with messages to deter the dumping of pollutants. Many people wrongly assume that storm drains lead to water treatment plants; in reality, they discharge directly into our natural water bodies. Consequently, pollutants from streets, parking lots, and driveways can contaminate these water sources, posing risks to aquatic life and human health.

Students learning how to safely explore the Huron River.

For Washtenaw County, the impact of stormwater runoff is significant, with a 40% increase in peak rainfall from large storms between 1960 and 2011. Recognizing these challenges, the county received a grant in March 2022 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to bolster green infrastructure in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. This initiative includes building rain gardens, wild prairie pollinator gardens, and planting trees in community spaces, with the goal of capturing over 2 million gallons of stormwater and restoring acres of native landscapes.

Education and community engagement are pivotal for the success of such initiatives. Stormwater stenciling serves as a powerful tool to educate communities about the impact of polluted stormwater and to foster active participation in environmental conservation.

During our visits together students will collect data on ambient air, water temperatures, and key water quality parameters in both urban and rural locations along the Huron River. These activities, facilitated by materials provided through the grant, will deepen their understanding of Michigan’s waterways, the local Huron River Watershed, water quality issues, and stormwater runoff. They will also observe and study local flora and fauna, gaining insights into how human activities affect stormwater runoff and contribute to climate change.

Hands-on discovery of the animals that call the Huron River home help connect to the importance of clean water.

As part of a call-to-action competition, students will design stormwater stencils to raise awareness about stormwater runoff. The winning stencil will be printed and distributed for placement on storm drains in the school area and across Ypsilanti, under the guidance of teachers and park interpreters.

Our overarching goal is to cultivate students’ appreciation for and knowledge of the Huron River Watershed, particularly regarding the effects of climate change on their community. This program aligns with NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and MSS (Michigan Science Standards) for second grade, fostering learning through plant and animal observations, exploration of Michigan’s water bodies, and the development of simple solutions to environmental challenges.

This project is made possible by funding from the Metroparks Foundation, whose mission is to provide essential support for sustaining and enriching the Metroparks for the benefit of both people and the environment in southeast Michigan. Established in 2003, the foundation has been instrumental in enhancing the parks through various projects and programs, including regional trail connections and educational initiatives for children and students across the region. The Huron-Clinton Metroparks Foundation operates as a 501(c)(3) organization, with support coming from private sector partners, foundations, and generous donors committed to preserving and enhancing our natural resources.

WaterWise’s collaboration with Ypsilanti International Elementary School and the Ypsilanti community exemplifies the power of education, community engagement, and environmental stewardship. Through projects like this, we aim to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders who will play a vital role in protecting and preserving our natural resources for years to come.

Example Stormwater stencils:

Ypsilanti Stormwater Management plan information:

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