Lakeland PBS presents Common Ground, brought to you by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.
Production funding of Common Ground is made possible in part by First National Bank Bemidji, continuing their second century of service to the community, Member FDIC.
[Music] [Music] Welcome to Common Ground.
I'm Producer/Director Scott Knudson.
In the second of the two-part series, we conclude with the Fifth Grade Water Summit and the importance and impact of water education.
When the Youth Water Summit is coming up, that week I feel so much joy and excitement.
It's toward the end of May, which is a beautiful time in northern Minnesota.
So the sun is shining, everything's greening up, and I feel this huge sense of joy to use my teaching skills, my communication skills, my knowledge of plants and also my patience to teach fifth graders.
The week before the Water Day Summit, David Lick comes around personally to each classroom.
He has about a 10 minute talk that he goes through with the kids.
David Lick has been the president of ICOLA, he's helped create and form Itasca Waters.
Hi, my name is Stephanie Kessler and I am involved in the Fifth Grade Youth Water Summit by serving with Itasca Waters on their Advisory Board.
I'm an Advisory Board member.
Stephanie Kessler has been a real big help to the organization.
She is the president of Itasca Coalition of Lake Associations, which is an umbrella organization for Itasca County for all the Lake Associations and I'm the president of that.
So, Itasca Waters and ICOLA work very closely together.
And she's also the ringleader of the Water Wisdom Series, of these speakers that take part on each Thursday.
So David Lick and I have been working on Itasca water quality for just over 20 years together.
He's just very passionate, spends a lot of time trying to reach people and get to people and figure out how to make people understand that it's worth their little effort to make a change so that we can all have good water quality.
When Dave walks into your classroom to speak with your students every year, there is no question that this guy is passionate about the waters in our area.
When I go into those classrooms the day before the event, I leave them with this message.
When you come to this event tomorrow, you're going to visit with people that are experts.
They'll answer whatever questions they can and if they don't have the answer they're not going to tell you something they don't know the answer to.
But what we need you to do is we need you to take this message and share it with somebody, teach them something about what you did today.
They also set each classroom teacher up with a vocabulary list that lends itself to a cross-curricular approach in the classroom where you can be working on new vocabulary terms, you can use it for a writing project.
There's a lot besides just the obvious science ties.
I think one of the main goals of the Water Summit, the Youth Water Summit, is to just reach even a few kids or a few ways that they might think about water differently.
The students at the fifth grade level have been really into, you know, coming to this event.
Fifth graders are ready to learn about water.
Once they get past the idea that this water day isn't about water balloons and getting wet and having a wild time with water, they're really very engaged with the whole day and the whole experience.
The education for the fifth graders is just really important.
That's the whole goal of it all, and so with Itasca Waters and ICOLA working together we can make sure that the community knows it's going to happen because we want the fifth graders there.
But we also want the community of Itasca County and Grand Rapids to know that we are doing this because it's a huge endeavor and really successful for these fifth graders and impactful for them.
You know when you're in fifth grade, you're just kind of becoming older and thinking you're really cool and you're starting to know everything and so if you can go learn about water and like oh gosh I didn't realize I shouldn't take three showers, or just anything to stay with them for their adult life.
Because when you are in fifth grade, I think it's really an influential age, and if we can reach them with even one, two, or three water conservation techniques or just education about water, they're going to keep that into their adult life.
And then when they marry somebody, they're going to say what do you mean you don't do it this way, you know, that's how we have to do it.
And so it's a really important age, and to just get them to learn even one, two, or three things...
So I like to bring this around.
I get to bring it to something like today and reach up to 500 students today and teach them the dangers of these low head dams.
Hopefully, if I can bring this around and teach one kid the danger and save that one kid's life, to me that's worth being here all day long.
And I bring it around to all the middle schools and elementary schools and show them this.
The kids here in Itasca County will see this dam about six to seven times before they graduate high school, and that's how important I think it is getting this message across to these students, showing them these low head dams, showing that they're not places to fish around, staying back about 300 feet and really getting to enjoy of the beautiful county that we have and at the same time being safe every single day.
I work at a dam and in dam safety and especially water safety is really important to me.
When we started organizing this program, what we tried to get across to these kids is the amount of fresh water that's literally on the face of the Earth.
Globally there's only about three percent of all the water that's on the face of the globe is fresh.
The rest is tied up with salt contents in the ocean.
Some of it's tied up in the rocks, and we happen to live in an area where we have abundant supplies of fresh water.
Northern Minnesota is really well known.
You know there are tons of lakes around.
We're the land of ten thousand lakes and water is a really, really important part of who we are, where we like to spend our time.
Our drinking water, our cleaning, all of our clothes, our food, it's all involved in water.
And so by starting to build these stronger connections with the world around us and learning a little bit more about this thing that's such an important part of our identity as Minnesotans, you know spending time out on the lake to go fishing, going swimming, going boating, you know, being out on the snow for cross-country skiing or snowmobiling, all of these things are all connected with how we like to spend our time, who we are and how we interact with the world around us.
That seems normal to us, but there's many areas in the world where that's not the case.
What we're trying to impress upon those students is that they live in a place that's extremely unique, and anytime you look at water, whether it's a river or whether it's a lake or a pond, it's a living system.
And by being connected with that and learning more and more about it, not only do, you know, we get the greater appreciation of out of it, but we learn more about our state and how to manage our water so that way we don't have issues with it.
You don't have as much pollution because people are more concerned about what's going into their water because you know if you're swimming in it you don't want really gross, nasty things in the water you're going to swim in or drink in.
And so by building these stronger connections and talking about, you know, what goes into water and water cycles and all of these things, you really connect with a deeper part of our roots.
When we do things like this it peaks their interest and all of a sudden the question could come up in the classroom and then the teacher can address it.
Or the teacher at least sees some of the presenters, these 40 or 50 presenters that are at the fairgrounds on that day, they know who they are, they could call them and say, "Hey, you want to come into my classroom and talk to my students about this?"
The organization of it that's done on the front end by all of the people, all the volunteers, it really makes our job as teachers very easy, so that's much appreciated.
There are so many volunteers at the Water Summit, whether it's the parents who are there and so kind to the students with whatever they need.
They get to meet some fellow supportive adults who are ready to volunteer, and they get to meet a lot of people working in different professions that they may have never heard of.
They get a chance to interact with community members who work in areas where they're concerned with water quality in our county and beyond.
The students get to meet and be with people working with invasive species and people who are underwater videographers, people who work in the DNR and people who are our local phenologists.
I was there with, you know, my cloud chamber.
There's a meteorologist there as well who's talking about forecasting in the more like broader sense, and so all these kids get to experience all these different aspects of water and why they're really important to Minnesota.
It's great for me to be able to bring my students directly to those community members.
You can really form that community connection.
So much of what we do in the classroom is kind of separated from that, so this is a great chance and opportunity for our students to see those connections and those ties to people that work in our community every day, and it's really a powerful connection.
It ties very much educationally to our science standards that we address in fifth grade.
District 318's Community Education has helped out immensely with the coordinating of it.
Education here in Minnesota overall, I would say, is very much a priority and also highly valued, not only in our area of the state but statewide Minnesota prides itself on having a quality education system and also putting it first and foremost.
Contrasting the differences between classroom learning and this type of learning is very much the hands-on factor.
The hands-on learning you're there, you're feeling things, getting those human senses involved with the learning, which for a lot of kids is really important to connect further with that subject matter.
You know not everyone learns really well when you're sitting at a desk and you're taking notes or you're just listening.
A lot of kids really like that hands-on learning environment, and so this provides that sort of out of school opportunity to connect them with the world in a new way, as well as to teach them more things about water.
It helps them build a deeper understanding of something that is often taken for granted.
After the Water Day event each year, there's a feeling of excitement which leads to more conversations during class here back at school.
We evaluate and survey all the students, all the presenters, and the parents every year, and what we find out is that message, a lot of times, gets left with those kids.
This program, this day benefits the community because I hope that some of that knowledge gets back to the families and when the children are able to teach their family members, talk about their day at the dinner table, that can expand the knowledge of local households.
Over the years, like we've done this nine times, so there's students that come now from the high school to volunteer to help at this event, and so when I go to them and ask them what they thought of it when they went through it as a fifth grader, which is kind of a good way to find out.
Some of them, you know, thought at the time, when they were fifth graders, that it was kind of boring, but yet at the same time now they're a sophomore or a junior and they're saying, "Hey, I remember that day and you know it's a cool thing I want to help out with this and I I think I need to pay more attention to how this all works."
I teach at the high school.
It's very exciting when I tell the students at the high school I'm going to go present at the Youth Water Summit.
So many of them tell me their memories from the Water Summit, in high school.
So this is, you know, seven, eight years later, and they're able to articulate what they loved from it and all the things they learned.
The way I look at this is it's a success if we get 25 of these students that sometime throughout their lifespan it rings a bell with them, and they say look we need to change the way we're handling water things.
Really hammering home that importance of keeping a clean environment, a clean water source.
Really paying it forward because there will be generations after us where that is more important than ever.
Itasca Water's mission, ever since the beginning of the organization, we have a little mantra a little slogan, and that mantra goes like this: Team Up for Clean Water.
So when we're talking to students, that's the idea about it.
Teamwork works really good if you got the right team.
You know if you got the wrong team, the idea is you got to try to convince the person who's not helping out to help out.
So what we do is we want to team up with any organization that's willing and able to help us out in any way they can.
The idea behind that is, you know, of this is some of these concepts and these projects and these events they take money, and we've been lucky that we've got some groups of philanthropic organizations that have supported us over the years.
The last grant that we received was from the Bush Foundation.
It is local sponsors that make a big deal, and so for the virtual Water Wisdom Series we did have a series of sponsors that really helped us.
They are the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation Fund, Minnesota Sea Grant, Itasca Soil and Water Conservation District.
Itasca Coalition of Lake Associations, KAXE-KBXE Radio and Rapids Radio.
They were all very instrumental in helping us get the word out and promote it and fund the whole entire series.
So we thank our sponsors very much.
Blandin Foundation has been with us ever since the beginning of the organization.
They're local, and of course we appeal to them right away to find out if they think what we wanted to do, you know, back in 2006 was a good idea, and so we told them what they were going to do and then they ended up helping our organization.
They helped moderate it.
They let us use their meeting places.
They provided money to bring in speakers to show us how to organize.
We are a working board and keep in mind that we're continually looking for people that are willing to help with what we try to do.
I think one of the main goals for all of our educational programming is to just really get the public to understand that water is truly a finite resource, it's not endless.
Our job is to try to tell somebody else who doesn't know about this that maybe they should pay a little closer attention to what they're doing on their land which is on the water.
What we're trying to do with the education with Itasca Waters here is trying to get people to say, "Hey, look we live in this wonderful area, let's preserve this for the next hundred years."
And we also understand that confrontational education is a downer.
It doesn't work to try to convince people with it like hey you're doing everything wrong.
That's not the idea of it.
But the idea is to encourage people to change their behavior a little bit.
They don't have to be, you know, a total teetotaler on trying to do everything ecologically inclined.
It's kind of like a lifestyle that we're trying to get across, because again everybody loves the lake, that's why we love Itasca County.
Northern Minnesota is so beautiful and we want it to stay that way and we want people to come here, but we need them to really pay attention to how they manage the real estate that they own and have control of.
The really big goal is to catch these youth when they're young and water conservation and water preservation just becomes completely normal to them.
Just like we've all been taught that you should really change your oil every so often and you should maintain your septic system every so often and you should take care of your water every so often.
With the education in Itasca County, Itasca Waters is really concentrating on that.
We're doing what's called the Clean Water Initiative right now, which is all education based.
It has three topics: septic systems, shorelands and buffer zones, and aquatic invasive species.
Those three things are the main topics of the Clean Water Initiative.
Well, the Water Wisdom Series is a program that Itasca Water started to reach the adults.
Because we've got this annual Fifth Grade Water Summit, we know it's successful, it's been 10 years, and it's just really a great thing for the fifth graders, so we kind of want to do that for the adults.
By doing a virtual Water Wisdom Series we can bring in these incredible speakers.
I mean how often do you get to talk to the state climatologist or the the top dog who deals with septic systems?
I mean it's a really neat opportunity, and so that's what we're trying to do is give those opportunities for education and outreach to the adults in the community.
If you want to attend a Water Wisdom Series you go to the Itasca Waters website, which is itascawaters.org and right on the main page, over on the right, you'll see a big yellow Post-It note that says Water Wisdom Series and you click on that.
Then you just scroll down to find the next one and you click on that when you register.
Then you get a an email with the zoom link and so the goal is to just really reach just even a handful of people, but really I think we're reaching more because it's really hard to listen to these things and go to these events and not take something home.
You just, you just oh, I didn't know that, and so you just learn something all the time.
You can have a beautiful home with all the luxuries of our great lifestyle, but you can still conserve water and you can still be doing the right things.
Septic systems are what every rural person uses to purify their sewage or their drain water.
In Minnesota, there's about 32 percent of all the Minnesotans who have a private septic system and that's a really big responsibility in my opinion because you don't have any city person or a city system taking care of your water.
Septic systems, if they're not installed correctly, don't filter the phosphorus and the nitrogen out and it goes into the lake or the river.
It's imperative that people pump septic systems every two to three years.
It's also imperative that every so often they try to have someone come out to make sure that their drain fields are good enough to do the filtering.
So whatever you put down your drain is kind of going to leak into the lake eventually, and so if your septic system is taken care of, that water will get back to the lake or the river and be just completely fine.
But if you you are kind of irresponsible or don't really care, don't think about it, before you know it your septic system isn't working and there's phosphorus in your lake and oh why is there so much algae in my water?
Well it's because we all have such an important impact.
Each little person truly does make an impact.
Now in Minnesota you're supposed to have that done quite often, and Itasca Waters has recently sponsored a program - an incentive program - with funding through the Blandin Foundation where people can sign up, and we will help them pay for the inspection, which is somewhere between 300 bucks and 500 bucks.
But if they fail they have to put in a new system within two years.
Now we went one step further.
We also went to the county government and asked them to apply for a a loan, and this was done by a fellow over on Deer Lake, and he pretty much took it as his job.
And he worked with the Environmental Services office and lo and behold they agreed to apply for this money.
So we in this county have a half a million dollars where people can get a no interest loan, no questions asked.
They pay a $200 filing fee and they can get money to replace their septic system.
The payments are added to their real estate tax statement over a 10-year period with no interest.
So we're trying to incentivize some of those things as much as we can.
Itasca Waters has a great program called the Shoreland Advisor Program.
When they own a house on the lake or the river or they buy a house, you don't always know what's right and wrong.
I mean nobody does this stuff maliciously.
Nobody's out there taking six showers a day just to use up the water, you know.
So, I mean, we just don't know.
And so the Shoreland Advisor Program is to help teach from your neighbor how to be a good neighbor and a good lake steward.
So we didn't want people on the lake to feel like like there's a big expert, I'm the expert in town and I'm going to tell you what to do.
We wanted people to be like oh it's my neighbor, gosh my neighbor can tell me what to do, and then I can kind of say what I really want to say and you don't feel so intimidated because it's just your neighbor.
And so the idea with that is that we train these neighbors to become these shoreland advisors and then they go talk to you where you're more comfortable and can ask those really stupid questions that you might not want to ask but you really do need to know.
That's one way we really get to shoreland owners is the Shoreland Advisor program and talking to them one-on-one.
And you can certainly go through the county, they've got kind of the same system, and they're not shoreland advisors they're the zoning people, but they also are super educated and know what to do and can tell you.
But that's really the goal is to make people feel kind of more comfortable and willing to talk to these advisors.
I'm involved because I love water.
I have always loved water- it's like my little passion, I guess.
I mean we all have little passions and what we really believe in and I really do believe in water conservation and water quality.
I've lived in northern Minnesota my whole life.
I was born in Grand Rapids, went to high school in Bemidji, have pretty much always lived on the water fishing and water skiing at a very young age and continuing to do that.
I just love it.
You know I really love spending time in the natural world, and when I got, you know, the invitation to come to the Water Summit I thought that was really cool and really exciting because I grew up in the local area and I really love spending time out on the lakes and rivers and streams and out on the snow as well.
There were all these people in my life when I was growing up who really helped to show me, you know, this is how you go cross-country skiing or let's go out fishing today or all of these different things, and they really got me involved in all of these pastimes and other things that I really like to be involved in, and I really love and I really appreciate it.
It helps me feel a bigger sense of belonging in this community.
I'm a transplant, I'm not from here.
I've been here for about seven years.
Being able to meet with other like-minded people who hold our natural world in such a high regard and keep it at the forefront of their concerns and their mind.
It makes me feel a greater sense of belonging here in Grand Rapids.
I came to the Itasca County area quite a long time ago because I was a teacher in Southwestern Minnesota, came here, and decided I didn't want to go home.
So we ended up staying here.
I didn't work in the education business.
I was in small business for 30 years.
I've always stayed active with trying to make sure people get how fragile this water system is, and I've been able to link up with people up here because we have a wealth of people that are knowledgeable about maintaining clean water here.
My degrees are in geography and water resources and I worked with flood recovery programs which was really cool, so my whole life has revolved around water.
I guess the bottom line is I just love it.
And so, not only am I giving back by helping people experience a natural world in a different way, as like I spent a lot of time as an environmental educator, my personal mission is to help deepen people's connections with the natural world.
Because it's really fun for you personally as a teacher, when you like go outside, and all of a sudden you like notice this tiny little thing crawling across the ground or you like sneakily, you know, point someone in a direction of a new bird or, you know, in the cloud machine you get this cloud going and you see that sense of awe or wonder in people and it's really fun and it's very fulfilling to me individually.
And so I joined the Water Summit because not only am I giving back to the community, but I personally get a lot of fulfillment from being an educator.
So I think water education and water conservation, just teaching people about water, is just super important.
In general it's really important to be connected to the environment around you and know more what's going on because it creates not only a more informed citizen, but it helps to create stronger connections to you and your environment and the people around you.
What our community needs is our own community where everyone steps up and does their part.
I love working with children.
I love working with plants, that's where I fit.
When everyone can find their place where they fit when it comes to protecting and promoting a clean and a resilient use of our water, we're showing that we as a people and a community here in Itasca County are resilient, and we can come together to support our children and send the message that water is essential in every aspect of our lives.
The idea is that if we work together on this, if we get small business and we get corporations involved in trying to do this and talking the talk and actually following through with what they're doing, we can keep this water in the condition that it is.
If we don't, it will continually deteriorate and it kind of hurts the golden goose.
The industry of tourism up here in Itasca County a few years ago was like 80 million dollars a year.
People come here because of the tranquility of the place, so think about that when you're coming up to your cabin or you're at your place.
It's about quiet and tranquility that really people are going to be looking forward to in the years to come, considering how busy everybody's lifestyle is.
Thank you so much for watching.
Join us again next season on Common Ground.
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