Do you know where your water comes from? What about where it goes when you flush your toilet?
If the answer to either question is no, try asking your nearest eighth grader.
At the end of April, all of School District 70’s Grade 8 students had a chance to see the city of Port Alberni’s entire water distribution system from source to sewer.
“It gives them an idea of how it goes from the intake to our water reservoirs to their taps when they get home at night,” said Brian Mousley, the city’s utilities superintendent. “Then when they go to use their washing machines and showers and toilets they know it travels through another set of pipes and goes to the [sewage] lagoon.”
This is the second year of Source to Sewer, a joint initiative between Mousley and West Coast Aquatic’s Sheena Falconer.
“Brian [Mousley] and I got together and thought ‘we need to bring this to school kids, we want every kid to know how it works.’”
Not knowing how the city’s basic utilities function is something Falconer sees as a knowledge gap in the population—not just in school kids.
“It’s so important but no one really teaches it. Learning from a book just isn’t the same. We should be offering it to everybody.”
Falconer believes that the lessons about water conservation and respecting the system by which water comes to and leaves from their homes is better taught by the people on the ground rather than just by teachers.
“The city staff, they take a lot of flak, but they are passionate about making things work. That’s their life’s work—making sure drinking water is clean for people in Port Alberni and making sure waste doesn’t back up into homes.”
For his part, Mousley sees the school tours as a key step in making sure kids understand how limited the city’s water supply really is.
“It gives them an awareness of how small the watershed is and how valuable that resource is that we take for granted.”
It’s certainly given Alisa Clydesdale, 14, something to think about.
“Looking at all the freshwater and how nice the freshwater is but then coming [to the sewage lagoon]and realizing how much pollution is going into the ocean. There should be better ways of doing it than putting it into the ocean.”
Exposing students to the behind-the-scenes activities of both the city and an aquatic stewardship organization like WCA opens up the eyes of students like Clydesdale to careers they may have never known existed.
“Our society is just in conservation, restoration and preservation of natural systems but we also work with a lot of contractors that build systems for us,” Falconer said.
“They get exposed to park companies and fisheries people and guys like Brian [Mousley] and his gang. They might have not even thought that there were jobs like that out there.”