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Walking the educational trail

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Chino Creek educates the youth and community

by Melissa Gasia
photography by Celine Dehban

Imagine a land so dry that its locals would have to pay a fine for watering their own lawns, hosing down their own driveway or washing their own car with a garden hose. Welcome to California. Yes, it is officially illegal to waste water, but maybe that’s a good thing. The California Water Boards’ media release in 2014 stated that a $500 fine would be given for violators who waste water. There are certain times or days of the week that residents are not allowed to water their lawn,and perhaps watering lawns will be completely prohibited one day. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Michelle O’Brien gives each student a piece of a cattail to feel its fluffy texture. O’Brien explained that the cattails are important to water preservation because they clean water by filtering out nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants. / photo by Celine Dehban

Michelle O’Brien gives each student a piece of a cattail to feel its fluffy texture. O’Brien explained that the cattails are important to water preservation because they clean water by filtering out nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants. / photo by Celine Dehban

The state’s thirst is growing as it reaches its fourth year in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Gov. Jerry Brown made a press announcement on April 1, 2015 to order California’s first ever mandatory water restrictions in history as a response to the chronic drought. Californians are now required to cut back 25 percent of urban water usage to deal with scarcity. Tree ring data suggests that 2014 was considered California’s worst drought as it had seen in 1,200 years and it is not getting any better.

There are natural reservoirs that could be maintained, including local wetlands such as the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park. It is a natural water treatment demonstration site and restoration for native habitat. “One of the nice things about wetlands is that they are natural reservoirs for water,” University of La Verne biology professor Pablo Weaver says. “They store water, and so when you remove that ability, you lose that natural storage.” Chino Creek also offers environmental, educational awareness to its neighborhood about the benefits of the Prado Basin, the largest freshwater habitat left in Southern California. “We’re really focusing on conserving and using water efficiently because we don’t have the rainfall that we should be getting, and so we’re not getting the snow that we should be getting that helps with our drinking water,” Lucia Diaz, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Facilities Program supervisor, says. “We have a significant amount of water that we do not have that we normally should be getting.”

Starting from scratch

The building process of the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park was partially funded by a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board in 2004. “Initially, when the agency started looking at the property behind our headquarters, it was just a dumping ground, so they wanted to do something that would give a good buffer to the community from our treatment plant,” Lucia says. It was an open land with either dirt or grass vegetation growing weeds and people would usually dump their trash in the area.

Michelle O’Brien leads a group up the observation tower to get a wide view of the park. The students of Juniper Elementary School in Fontana came to learn about water and wildlife at Chino Creek. / photo by Celine Dehban

Michelle O’Brien leads a group up the observation tower to get a wide view of the park. The students of Juniper Elementary School in Fontana came to learn about water and wildlife at Chino Creek. / photo by Celine Dehban

The agency considered a number of proposals for what to do with the land such as creating a soccer park for the city of Chino, but settled on wetlands and educational park. IEUA created and designed the park with the help of engineering consultants. Lucia was hired as a construction project coordinator in 2006 to manage the builds of the park with subcontractors, and about 1,000 volunteers helped with the planting and installing irrigation. The park opened to the public in 2008 as part of the Chino Creek Integrated Plan, which focuses on preserving and restoring the Prado Basin located at the lower Chino Creek. The park consists of 22 acres and includes wetlands and riparian habitat with six connecting ponds. It features landscapes with more than 22,000 drought tolerant plants and more than five miles of irrigation. The park also serves as a sanctuary to many species of birds, animals and other forms of wildlife that adapted to the wetland and park’s environment. The community is welcome to use the park to exercise, walk their dog or simply enjoy the environment through the interactive trails with informational signs about wildlife habitat and water conservation. “It promotes healthy living because we’re giving people the walk out in the park when they’re normally just sitting down inside and watching TV,” Lucia says.

Understanding wetlands

Wetlands, in general, purify water, clean water supplies and minimize flood threats, but they are gradually disappearing. This brings danger to nature and all living things, especially to the endangered species that rely on wetlands as their home. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 90 percent of California’s wetlands have been lost. “There is kind of a public perception of wetlands being somehow dirty or places where mosquitoes can breed, places where pests live and so we’ve done a really good job of eliminating wetlands for most of the country,” Pablo says. “It is important to become educated on wetlands, understand their role in ecosystems and their importance in ecosystems.”

A pair of Canadian geese paddle in one of the four creeks at the 22-acre Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park. In 2011 the Wetlands became a Certified Wildlife Habitat site by the National Wildlife Foundation. / photo by Celine Dehban

A pair of Canadian geese paddle in one of the four creeks at the 22-acre Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park. In 2011 the Wetlands became a Certified Wildlife Habitat site by the National Wildlife Foundation. / photo by Celine Dehban

The Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park has more than a million gallons of recycled water flowing through its wetlands each day from the creek to the detention pond. Agencies such as the IEUA recycle undrinkable wastewater and use it to irrigate landscapes, flush toilets, wash cars, fill ponds and wetlands. This prevents potable water from being used for these purposes. “Our main focus is to treat water and produce recycled water,” Lucia says. “We also make sure that there’s a good understanding that we need to use water efficiently. Not just conserve it but use it efficiently because there’s only so much water on earth to use and we’re not producing or creating new water. We have to make sure that the potable water we are using for drinking purposes are used as efficient as possible.”

The Chino Creek Park has a pipe garden surrounded by informational signs throughout the park providing a deeper understanding on wetlands, water usage and tips on how to further save more water. For instance, the average household water use per day without conservation is 289 gallons compared to the 88 gallons that would be used with conservation. “We need water to live and water is a precious natural resource and if we didn’t do what we do then we wouldn’t have a secure water supply for the community for the residence for the region,” Andrea Carruthers, IEUA senior external affairs specialist, says.

Spreading awareness

IEUA provides free scheduled outdoor environmental educational field trip events at the park Tuesday through Thursday. The Water Discovery Field Trip program and Bussing Mini-Grant, partially funded by a grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation, allows students and community members to tour the park, reconnect with the natural world and get a deeper understanding of the importance of natural water treatment. This creates a natural environment for endangered species and environmental issues in their neighborhood through engaging hands-on outdoor activities. Water conservation, threatened wetlands, and watershed issues are emphasized in the field trips.

“A lot of the youth today are always inside on their computers, on their cellphones or video games,” Lucia says. “They’re not really outside, so the park gives them an introduction into what types of habitats were here before all the industrial and urbanization that we now have in this area.” For example, children get to learn the system of the water cycle through making bracelets as they act as water molecules traveling in different parts of nature. Another activity is the enviroscape, which is a model of homes, factories and farms that demonstrates the process and effects of pollution such as fertilizers and pesticides on the watershed. “Everybody focuses on adults all the time trying to get them to conserve water especially since California is in a drought right now, but in my personal opinion, I think reaching out to the younger (is important) when you’re trying to… train their minds to think conservatively,” Serina Stephens, IEUA external affairs specialist, says. “With the students, they get to take it back to their parents, and they know what they’re doing, and it’s really exciting because they learn a lot here that maybe they didn’t know what they could do to help conserve and what they’re doing to kind of affect the watersheds and all kinds of living things around them.” This year, they have more than 3,000 scheduled students to learn about water conservation, water quality and the local ecosystem.

The IEUA wants to ensure the future water needs of the Chino Groundwater Basin will be met. It is predicted that the cities of Ontario, Chino, Chino Hills, Montclair, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland and Fontana will demand an additional of 33 billion gallons of water each year by 2020. The Chino Basin Recycled Water Groundwater Recharge Program will provide 13 billion gallons of water per year by directing storm water run-off and other means. Keeping projects like these on track is a way of using resources efficiently and ensuring future generations have a sufficient water supply. The goal is to conserve water now for its supply to last for future uses. With the unpredictable climate, the people have their own responsibility to conserve water and maximize its utilization. The Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park will continue to play a role in promoting water conservation. “The future of the park is going to stay the way it is,” Lucia says. “It is going to continue educating people, and making the people and the community more aware that it’s there for recreational use.”

One of the field trip activities, the enviroscape, was designed to show students how our daily routines affect the water system. Guide Michelle O’Brien sprinkled different substances, like Kool-Aid or cocoa powder, over the miniature town to represent pesticides, bugs and animal feces. / photo by Celine Dehban

One of the field trip activities, the enviroscape, was designed to show students how our daily routines affect the water system. Guide Michelle O’Brien sprinkled different substances, like Kool-Aid or cocoa powder, over the miniature town to represent pesticides, bugs and animal feces. / photo by Celine Dehban

Tips to use water efficiently

1. Replace your standard washer with high efficiency washer. You will save 18 gallons per load.
2. Water plants early while the temperature is low to reduce evaporation.
3. Check toilet, pipes or faucets for leaks. According to EPA, the average household leaks can waste more than 10,000 gallons of water.
4. Use a broom to clean driveway and sidewalks rather than your water hose.
5. Use low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to save energy and reduce unneeded water usage.

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2 Responses to Walking the educational trail

  1. John Brown September 3, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    The enviroscape was an interesting visual learning aid to help demonstrate how much bugs, pesticides, and animal feces can affect a city. Really cool idea to help teach awareness of our the effects of our actions on the environment.

  2. John Brown September 3, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    Great visual aid with the miniature town and to demonstrate the effect of feces, pesticides, and insects on our environment.