By Nathan Deal, Nathan.Deal@gjsentinel.com, The Daily Sentinel
The American West is in the midst of an ongoing water crisis.
Sara Hill, a fourth-grade teacher at Shelledy Elementary School in Fruita, drove through Gunnison and the Blue Mesa Reservoir area last month during a spring break road trip.
What she saw was distressing — extremely low water levels. Her family of avid fishermen has taken trips to Lake Powell in Arizona in the past year and similarly found the sight of barren shorelines “sickening.”
This week, she’s using her class time to teach the next generation about how to conserve water and help mitigate the crisis, all as part of Student Water Awareness Week leading up to Earth Day today.
“They say our precipitation is pretty average right now, but overall, how do you make up for what we’ve lost already?” Hill said.
“I’m also one of those who, even not during this week of Water Week, I’m trying to get these kids to be conscious of water conservation. Right away, the kids are like, ‘Oh, so I don’t need to flush the toilet five times when I go one time?’ or they bring a water bottle instead of drinking out of the water fountain because that water isn’t completely making it into their mouths, or we talked about brushing their teeth and turning the faucet up while they brush.
“It’s the little things that can make a huge difference in water conservation.”
Her students have responded with enthusiasm this week. On Wednesday afternoon, near the end of the school day, she took her class of 19 students outside for a lesson on the grass, where they discussed the various ways water is necessary for plants, animals and the ground.
Each student has been asked to keeping tabs on how much water they use this week.
“We have this sheet where we’re tracking how much we use water daily, like how many cups of water we drink, how many times we go to the bathroom, how much time we spend washing our hands, that stuff,” said Keagan Kiser, one of Hill’s students.
Hill said some students weren’t aware of the concept of water conservation or its importance in this arid region of the country until this week, but many of them have already become aware of the issue.
Many students remember both the fires that scorched the Western Slope in 2020 and the frequent mudslides in the Glenwood Canyon last year that were a result of the Grizzly Creek Fire. Hill said a few students at the school even have experienced being stuck in traffic in the canyon with their families.
“Some people know a lot about water, but some of us were just starting to learn, so Mrs. Hill’s taught us a lot about it,” Kiser said.
Part of this week’s curriculum has included 22 tips for saving water, particularly saving 22 gallons a day.
Hill’s concern over the issue of water conservation doesn’t end when she leaves her classroom, nor will it end when this semester is over.
Hill is part of a National Geographic grant that is sending 15 teachers from Colorado, Utah and Arizona to learn more about water and build lesson plans that they can share with other teachers in their district.
Hill will spend three days in Cortez and also visit Mesa Verde National Park and Lake McPhee in the San Juan National Forest.
“The education department heads of all three states wrote this grant and got it, and we get to spend three days with the indigenous population talking about water conservation and their livelihood,” Hill said.
Nathan Deal, The Daily Sentinel