SALT LAKE CITY — The rainy weather Wednesday didn't keep nearly 1,500 Salt Lake County fourth-graders from learning about water quality and pollution at Utah's Hogle Zoo.
The elementary students attended the 13th annual Salt Lake County Stormwater Coalition Water Quality Fair, which included 13 learning stations to support the fourth-grade science core curriculum. The event continues Thursday where another 1,500 fourth-grade students are expected to attend.
"I think it's sort of fun because we get to learn about water and the different ways we can help our Earth," said 10-year-old Wills Smith, who attends Rosecrest Elementary School. "Because if we don't be careful soon, we will just have polluted water and stuff."
The fair taught students about the water cycle, stormwater pollution prevention, how water quality impacts health, the environment and quality of life, and the relationship between water and zoo animals.
"Hopefully what they learn today are some things they can do at home, that they can teach their parents to do at home," said Jack Wilbur, spokesman for Salt Lake County Stormwater Coalition. "Most of the stormwater pollution actually comes from our individual homes and sidewalks, parking lots, those kinds of things. Yes there are industrial sources of it, but the collective of all the people really make a big impact on the water pollution and so if we all do a little bit, each of us, it could make a big difference."
Meredith Ethington, parent chaperone with Rosecrest Elementary School, said she learned new things from the fair as well, and she supported the idea that kids should teach their parents good habits.
"I think sometimes we're stuck in a rut in the way we do things, and I think if our kids can learn something and pass it on to us, I think that's a great idea," she said. "They're going to be the future one day and they're going to take care of the Earth so might as well teach them now."
Ethington's son, 10-year-old Kyle, said it's important to take care of water "because we use it every day."
Wilbur said best practices to manage stormwater include cleaning up oil spills in a driveway, sweeping grass clippings back on the lawn and picking up dog waste.
"Just basic things like that we really want people to focus on," he said.
Cleaning up dog waste is one practice the coalition highlighted this year, Wilbur said.
"If you can imagine the bacteria and pathogens, E. coli those kinds of things, that are in animal waste, that gets into a storm drain, if it gets into a storm drain it will get into the nearest river, creek, pond, lake, totally untreated," he said. "As you can imagine, the waste from one dog may not be a big deal, but if that's happening all over the valley and a lot of people, that's a big deal."
The rainy weather provided a hands-on learning tool where kids could see the cause and effect right away, he said.
"It's perfect for teaching," he said. "There's nothing that can replace the actual storm."
Several organizations manned different booths at the event and most included an interactive teaching tool for the children. Representatives from Tracy Aviary focused their message on how students can help keep animals safe from pollutants.
"We wanted to come here today and talk about how what we do in our daily lives, and the products that we use, affect our water and affect water pollution and how it can affect birds and fish as well. It's not just us," said Megan McKay, youth programs coordinator for Tracy Aviary.
One big point that was driven home was avoiding products that use microplastics, such as certain body or face washes and toothpaste.
"We're trying to show kids how you can learn to look for the ingredients that will show whether there's plastic in your body wash or your face wash and how using that in the shower or the sink actually ends up in our water waste, so it can end up in the Jordan River, the Great Salt Lake, where our birds come, our fish come and we drink the water," McKay said.
Alyson Rice, special education teacher at Bella Vista Elementary School, said she thought the field trip "enriches" the students' education.
"I think this is important for students because it really brings the learning and the classroom to life," she said. "It really bridges a connection between real life and what they're reading on paper."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski attended one part of the event and spoke to a group of about 30 fourth-graders about stormwater.
"What I want you to do is go home and share what you learned today with your families and tell them how important it is to keep the leaves out of our storm drains, that we don't pour things in there because guess what? We all live downstream."