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'Water, water, everywhere'

Fourth graders attend annual groundwater festival in Sidney

 

Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

North Elementary student Preston Olsen, 10, guides droplets of water through a maze during the 2016 Western Nebraska Children's Groundwater Festival held Tuesday in Sidney.

More than 200 fourth graders from five area schools filled the Cheyenne County Community Center and Lodgepole Valley Youth Camp in Sidney all day Wednesday as they learned the ins and outs of water as a natural resource during the 2016 Western Nebraska Children's Groundwater Festival.

The annual festival, now in its 26th year, is a joint effort between the South Platte Natural Resources District (SPNRD), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office.

The goal of the groundwater festival is to educate area fourth grade students on the basics of groundwater, such as how arrives to their faucets and how it is used throughout the district.

"Between agricultural, domestic and industrial needs," said Donald Davis, the information and education coordinator for SPNRD. "It's an opportunity to teach kids about how our groundwater works."

Davis said the Sidney area primarily obtains its groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer.

Attending this year were fourth grade students from Sidney, Leyton, Creek Valley, Potter-Dix and Garden County. Grouped in their classes, the students moved to ten different presentations, demonstrations and activities scattered throughout various stations at the community center and youth camp. Each station lasted about 15 minutes before groups moved on to the next.

"It's just a lot activities for the kids," Davis said. "They get to learn about water, how it's used in the district, how to conserve and how it gets to them."

Stations included two groundwater models, water tricks, building a well in a cup, a "Jeopardy"-style game covering water conservation methods, nutrients a seed needs to grow and more.

While the festival typically includes activities both indoors and outdoors, windy and chilly weather conditions kept things inside this year, Davis said.

"Going from 78 degrees one day to 48 degrees with a chance of snow the next, that's just how it goes," he said.

A long-standing tradition in the district, the groundwater festival serves as a cultural touchstone for many area residents who attended it in their youth.

"Some of the teachers that are here actually participated in it when they were fourth graders years ago," Davis said.

Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

UNL Extension Agent Cynthia Gill runs Garden County fourth grade students through a watershed demonstration using a model and a spray bottle during the 2016 Western Nebraska Children's Groundwater Festival held Wednesday in Sidney.

Leyton High School senior Jessica Houk volunteered, along with several of her fellow National Honor Society classmates, to assist with the groundwater festival. Houk said she remembered attending the festival as a fourth grader.

"I was 10 years old," she said. "In school, we did a unit about all the things that go on at the groundwater festival, and then we came here."

Houk, now 18 years old, said returning to the festival after so many years was "kind of overwhelming" for her.

"I've never seen so many fourth graders all in one place before," she said. "Leyton has a student body, K through 12, of about 200."

Houk said she felt that it what valuable to the students to learn about the importance of groundwater to the community as well as plant life, and especially the necessity of water conservation to preserve the natural resource for future generations.

"There's a limit," she said. "We're not always going to have an endless supply of water."

 

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