Local middle schoolers are spending the week learning about water quality and how it gets compromised.
"We're learning how to take care of the water, and what lives in it, and how to tell if streams are clean," said Katie Sutton, 14.
"And we're learning how to test the water, and if the water has bacteria in it -- if it's safe," said 12-year-old Cameron Davis.
The youngsters, part of a five-day camp sponsored by The TennesSEA (Tennessee Student Environmental Alliance) sampled Shoal Creek on Signal Mountain on Tuesday.
Shoal Creek is one of three creeks on the mountain where state environmental regulators have found E. coli bacteria.
It's also one of 21 creeks in Hamilton County where the bacteria has been found and linked with sewer line and septic tank leaks or failures, according to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation 2010 draft list of the state's impaired streams.
The boys and girls jostled to be samplers, pulling on rubber gloves and readying for their work as instructor Mary Beth Sutton called out assignments. One would look for bugs. One would look for salamanders. One would test the water's acidity, and another would take bacteria samples.
The camp is Mrs. Sutton's brainchild, and the former Chattanooga Nature Center director and former Baylor School science teacher has been conducting similar camps and programs in the Caribbean for six years. There she has helped a nonprofit group educate residents to improve their water.
This year's local camp is a first, but hopefully not a last, she said.
"You can take kids out, and show them this, and then they are the ones that make changes," Mrs. Sutton said. "It works."
KIDS 4 CLEAN WATER SPONSORS
* TenneSEA Kids 4 Clean Water
* South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance
* North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
* Mountain Stewards of Signal Mountain
* Hamilton County Water Quality
* Tennessee American Water Co.
* City of Chattanooga water quality office
* W.R. Grace Co.
Source: Kids 4 Clean Water
She said children, especially middle schoolers, can see and figure out things and be creative, while adults get too busy putting food on the table.
"But the kids will say, 'Aww, we need to do something about that!' And then they make their parents do it. Or they will just start doing something. And the parents will catch on," she said.
She and a camp sponsor, Larry Cook, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, said they wanted to give the children a broad spectrum of fun lessons -- some about clean water and some about not-so-clean water. In the future, Mr. Cook said, perhaps each local watershed will have a camp or summer program.
At 3:30 p.m., the youngsters were headed for a tour of the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant.
"It's all about water," Mrs. Sutton told them. "This water should be cleaner than this. Everybody deserves clean water."
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