This time last month, I was up in chilly Bismarck, North Dakota, giving a keynote lecture about my experience paddling down the Mississippi River documenting plastic waste and water quality to the 2018 ND Water Quality Monitoring Conference attendees.
I met incredible people doing impressive work there. Most notably, North Dakota has a strong river water quality monitoring program for high school students across the state. I was heartened and impressed to see the work of students at 5 schools sharing what they had learned over the past year in their local river water quality monitoring programs. Several of the seniors planned to continue the work in their undergraduate studies.
Students from Minto, Larimore, West Fargo, Mayville-Portland and Minot shared such creative and inspiring work. You can follow some of them by following #riverwatch18 . Some of them taught 4th graders with a life-sized river game, some of them collaborated with the Prairie Waters Education and Research Center to monitor their local river. One group monitored rain gauges and seasonal changes in wildlife in their area, and another created an evening news-style video about their work. This sort of citizen science is key to getting the general public interested and knowledgeable about our local ecology and the impacts we have on it.
And as a bonus, one of the students came up to me afterward and thanked me for directly welcoming to our midst all the people of color, women, disabled, tribal, LGBTQI people, and for showing up with bright hair and facial piercings. "I love your passion. Thank you for standing up for us. I was told that I was coming to a very conservative place to present, and that I should think about taking out my piercings. I was so happy that you were here, and even giving the keynote lecture!" In turn, she, and all the other students, delighted me!
While I was only able to attend one day of the conference due to blizzard conditions and flying schedules, I am grateful to Mike Ell from the ND Department of Health for inviting me. I was so impressed with the high level discussions being had about cleaning and monitoring rivers where tons of energy development (drilling for gas and oil) sometimes leads to devastating oil spills. I was inspired by the personable gratitude offered by Karl Rockeman (about showing up despite the blizzard!) before his lecture.
I was tickled by one of the comments I got afterward, "My cabin is about 10 minutes from where you put in. Lots of mosquitos up there. You're tough. Good job."
If you are interested in joining in the citizen science end of things, I learned about World Water Monitoring Day (now called EarthEcho Water Challenge), where you can order kits to do your own monitoring of the local water bodies in your area, or just check out the repository of data already collected by people like me and you around the world.
Finally, I was reminded of a quote from Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything, "The difference between science and screwing around is writing stuff down and sharing that information," which is why, even though it took me a month, I knew it was important to share what I learned at this conference.
Thanks again, North Dakota, don't be a stranger!
(From top left: conference attendees; blanket of snow and ice on everything, even the Missouri River beyond the parking lot, which flows to the Mississippi; updated info about the Ash Coulee Creek pipeline spill in 2016; image of Ash Coulee Creek on fire during clean-up; barely staying warm enough "This snow wasn't here 2 days ago!"; amazing skeletons of ancient buffalo and cats at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum which I got to visit.)