EHS Ecology Club to represent state in Youth Watershed Summit

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Thirty years after passage of the federal Clean Water Act, the review of one local watershed will take four Elizabethton High School students and their teacher to Washington this week.
   Four members of the Elizabethton High School Ecology Club and its sponsoring teacher Gary Barrigar will represent the state of Tennessee at the Youth Watershed Summit national forum in Washington, D.C. this week.
   "We're going to be going our presentation on our water shed and learning about other people's watersheds," said Karisha Nelson, 16, an EHS junior and one of four Ecology Club members the students journeying to the nation's capitol.
   Barrigar and club members Jessica Higgins, 16, and Kyle Germaine, 16, along with sophomore Caleb McDaniel, 15, will join approximately 200 students and 50 teachers from across the nation to present their watershed projects at the Summit.
   The three-day summit consists of a series of educational, work group and plenary sessions on technical and policy issues concerning watershed protection.
   A panel of experts and the student delegates will evaluate the materials and select team based on content, presentation, and originality, according to the Summit Web site.
   "This year is the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act," said Barrigar.
   The Club took up the assessment of Buffalo Creek in west Carter County to qualify for the Summit guidelines.
   Each team was asked to collect data from the selected watershed(s) and use this information to prepare a written report and a visual representation of their watershed for review and competition at the Summit.
   Their study found stream bank erosion, poor water quality and pollution derived from local livestock.
   "We found erosion where the sediment washes out and also we've seen evidence of livestock pollution," said Barrigar, a teacher at Elizabethton High for 28 years. "It is a stream that we've been working with for a couple of years. We've actually been testing it since 1998."
   The club spent each Wednesday and several Saturdays gathering data on water quality, stream bank erosion. After determining potential problems with Buffalo Creek, students gathered and analyzed data to support their theses.
   "We had something to be proud of because we actually did that stuff ourselves," said Higgins.
   Experiencing science through hands-on work rather than strictly from a textbook proved more rewarding -- and more fun -- according to the students.
   "I really like the outside and the outdoors," said Germaine, who is vice president of the Ecology Club. "It makes you think about how dirty the water and it makes you think twice about what you're doing."
   The watershed project is one of several ecological projects the club has taken on in the past years.
   Ecology club members have picked up litter at Roan Mountain State Park, assisted with the county's hazardous waste collection and disposal in September disposal, perform "river cleanups" of the Doe and Watauga rivers and plant trees around the county.
   The club also planted trees in Roan Mountain after the 1998 flood to stabilize low-lying areas prone to flooding.
   "Sometimes it is part of our stream work because one of the ways to protect stream banks is to plant trees," said Barrigar.
   The Tennessee Environment and Conservation selected the EHS Ecology Club to represent Tennessee in September. The summit is being held from Monday through Thursday at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center at Edgewater, Maryland outside Washington, D.C.
   The Club also received support from the Boone Watershed Partnership.
   "They have developed with various agencies to stabilize the creek bank and we've been involved in that," said Barrigar.
   America's Clean Water Foundation (ACWF) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are hosting the Youth Watershed Summit. Financial support is coming from the Foundation and the United States Environmental Protection Agency USEPA).