Water Rocks! in Kansas City with the EPA

The Water Rocks! team had the privilege of sharing their expertise with educators and outreach professionals in Kansas City, MO, on Feb. 24-25. The day-and-a-half Summit was in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the EPA Region 7 headquarters.

Water Rocks! is a statewide youth campaign to bring awareness and an appreciation of water, based at Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach in Ames. The campaign uses a variety of ways to educate K-12 students including: classroom visits, music videos, an online computer game, entertaining informative videos, geocaching, learning activities, and an annual educational summit for Iowa teachers.

In June 2014, Water Rocks! hosted their first Teacher Summit in Ames with 28 Iowa teachers attending. Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks! director, explained, “Leah Medley [EPA Grant Coordinator] has been reading all of our reports through the last couple of years and was really impressed with our work.

The invitation to Kansas City also represents a certain coming of age for Water Rocks! as an organization. Said Comito, “It was really gratifying to hear Steve Kovac [EPA Branch Manager for Watershed Planning & Implementation] refer to Water Rocks! as one of its premiere outreach and education programs.”

Kovac commented further, “The Water Rocks! program is the only educational outreach organization implementing a water education campaign with specialized experience in the rural and urban water quality issues found in Region 7 states. And the program has demonstrated success in many unique and creative educational materials including free, accessible online options.”

Nathan Stevenson, program specialist with Water Rocks!, was one of the team members at the Summit. Stevenson commented, “This Summit is proof that our resources are sought after by groups throughout the region, and that there is an overwhelming need for these kinds of materials.”

Water Rocks! team member Liz Juchems explained that the goal is to train the trainers. “It’s a multiplying effect,” asserted Juchems. “We’re a small staff and this expands our reach. The Summit was also a chance to work with fellow environmental colleagues at the same level. Not everyone gets that opportunity.”

Stevenson added that it was “cool to see ideas pop up in their brains and to have individual conversations during breaks about how they were planning to adapt these lessons for their use.”

The partnership with the EPA started three years earlier when the program began. “We have to give a shout out to Allen Bonini and the rest of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources watershed improvement group for their willingness to take a risk on a program such as Water Rocks!,” Comito stressed. “We are here today because of Allen’s commitment in raising the environmental literacy of Iowa’s youth as a key to a better Iowa.”

As far as the lasting effect of the Summit in Kansas City, Comito is hopeful. “We are all part of the larger Mississippi River Basin watershed. We are all in this together.”

For more information, visit the website: www.waterrocks.org. Follow Water Rocks! on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Water Rocks! partners include: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (United States Environmental Protection Agency), Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center, Iowa Learning Farms and personal gifts of support. This cooperative project has been funded in part through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.