By: Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Two dozen students held class in canoes Monday to learn first-hand the importance of clean water. It was the opening day of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s fall 2017 Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program, or SWEEP.
Students from the Steelton High School Science Club took to the waters of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg to observe insects and aquatic life, test water quality and study the impact of human activity on the water.
Ryan McGrady, a co-manager of the program, says the experience gives the kids a real sense of the role they play in the environment.
“Students get that bright twinkle in their eye once they do come out with us, and you really see the light bulb go off on, ‘This is what’s in my backyard and this is how I can impact our ecosystem,'” he says.
Now in its 27th year, the SWEEP team will work with 19 regional groups in 11 counties, helping students build critical connections to the natural world.
McGrady points out that those connections extend beyond the lakeshores and river banks to adjacent land, the source of many of the pollutants that affect the river.
“We point out where farmers’ lands may be right up against the water and those nitrates and manure may be flowing directly into that water,” he explains. “We often look at just how the city roads are sitting right along the water, particularly in the winter and spring when a lot of that salt gets into the water.”
The Susquehanna watershed is a major contributor to nitrate and sediment pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Beyond the science, McGrady hopes the students who participate in the program learn that, from the headwaters in New York to the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna is a living ecosystem.
“The importance and health of the river is something we can all play a part in our daily lives because we all live around the bay and everything we do up here affects somebody else downstream,” he explains.