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Tuolumne River Trust receives $91K to boost water literacy for local students
Tuolumne River Trust 3
Central Valley Director of Outreach Education Meg Gonzalez said that the idea behind the Tuolumne River Trusts Water Ways initiative was the popularity of the existing Trekking the Tuolumne River Education Project, which seeks to engage fourth and fifth graders in a watershed education curriculum. - photo by Photo Contributed

As a record-breaking drought continues to parch California with no foreseeable end, the Tuolumne River Trust is hoping to transform local students into knowledgeable water stewards with a first-of-its-kind K-12 water literacy program at Hughson Unified School District.

“We are really ground zero for so many things that happen with water issues,” said Central Valley Director of Outreach Education Meg Gonzalez. “Especially with this drought going on, we’re very aware that students have little to no knowledge as to where water comes from or about the services that the Tuolumne River provides.”

The initiative, called Water Ways, will be made possible in part from Tuolumne River Trust’s collaborative partnership with other local non-profits, schools, county agencies, as well as a $91,000 Environmental Education grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency—an award amount that Gonzalez viewed as “significant.”

 “This is huge,” said Gonzalez, who will be leading the project. “Anybody who has tried to get a grant from the EPA knows it’s incredibly challenging because you’re competing against a huge number of possible applicants.

“The fact that a relatively small project in Stanislaus County got recognized and received funding—and was one of the only projects to receive full funding—is amazing,” continued Gonzalez. 

Over the course of two years starting in Spring 2016, local environmental educators, experts in water-related fields, and schools in the Hughson Unified School District will collaborate to provide over 2,000 students with two consecutive years of grade-appropriate lessons, relevant career exploration opportunities and hands on, experiential learning to empower youth to act as future stewards of the river and environment. Results will help inform the development of a water literacy model that can be replicated in other school districts.

 “The goal of Water Ways is to ensure we have water literate youth in Stanislaus County who are prepared to take on the challenges and fill the jobs that exist in the management of our local water resources,” said Gonzalez. “We will do this by bringing together a diverse set of community partners to create a K-12 program combining environmental science and locally relevant environmental issues related to water at every stage of our students’ learning.”

Gonzalez said that idea behind the Water Ways initiative evolved from the organization’s existing Trekking the Tuolumne River Education Project, which seeks to increase watershed management capacity in the region by engaging fourth and fifth grade students in a watershed education curriculum.

“The reach for this project is limited to one or two grades, so we wanted to figure out how we can expand because this is a program we’ve gotten a lot of support for,” said Gonzalez.

In Water Ways, Gonzalez said that each student will engage in different activities based on their grade level. These can range from learning simple concepts such as the water cycle to more complex concepts such as the chemical components of water and its relationship with soil.

“It’s really going to build up until high school because one important thing we realized was missing was that high school kids are not aware of numerous jobs in water-related fields,” said Gonzalez. “It is one of the fastest growing fields in the country and certainly in California.”

To better educate students on the various water-related jobs that are available to them, Gonzalez said that she is currently looking for professionals in local water-related fields to recruit as Field Specialists to provide career exploration opportunities.

“We are looking for people working in water-related fields to volunteer some time to share what they do with students,” said Gonzalez. “Opportunities include visiting a classroom, attending a field trip or being part of a water career expo that will be scheduled later next year.”

Project partners include: Tuolumne River Trust, Great Valley Museum, Foothill Horizon Outdoor School, National Ag Science Center, East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District, Stanislaus County office of Education, UC Cooperative Extension, River Partners and Hughson Unified School District.

For more information or to volunteer as a Field Specialist, call Gonzalez at 236-0330 or email