By Maddi Phillips, South Carolina Project WET
Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District (GCSWCD) in South Carolina recently introduced an impactful new teaching tool: a watershed model of Greenville County. The model is similar to an EnviroScape, but instead of an imaginary landscape, this model is a topographically accurate map printed with aerial photography of the area and adorned with local waterways, roadways, landmarks, municipalities and, most importantly, watershed boundaries. The board is waterproof, making it easy to “make it rain” (with the assistance of a spray bottle) on the landscape and watch the water travel through the watershed, ebb and flow in the rivers and drain into what staff affectionately refer to as “Lake Greenwood” (the lake downstream of Greenville).
The idea for the model began in 2015 when GCSWCD staff was brainstorming for an upcoming litter pollution campaign. It seemed that there was little concern for roadside litter but that attitudes changed when that litter was in a river. After researching, talking to residents and meeting with local conservationists, the consensus was that people know not to litter, but there is a disconnect between trash on the ground and trash in the waterways. Put another way, many people do not understand the concept of a watershed.
One nature park director spoke on the countless comments from concerned park visitors about the amount of trash in the river that runs through the park. “People are leaving their trash in the river," they would complain. "Why aren’t you doing anything about this?” A park curator whose life's work some days seems to be endlessly picking up litter--only to have the efforts be erased after each rainfall--can get understandably defensive, since the struggle is not litter originating in the park but litter originating upstream in the highly urbanized watershed. Thus, the need for a model.
After a year and a half of planning and execution, a watershed model was delivered to an eager Soil and Water District.
Happily, it works exactly as intended and has been an effective tool in educating the public. We generally start by locating students’ homes, offices or schools on the map. From there, they are able to see in which of Greenville’s 10 watersheds they are located and, therefore, which river their stormwater (and its accompanying pollution) flows into. Conversation segues are endless. Discussions are started on pollution, water quality, living downstream and many other critical topics.
The model has been in use for a couple of months, and the initial response has been positive. At the beginning of the demonstration, when asked “Do you know what a watershed is?” the majority of participants answer no, looking stumped. By the end of the demonstration, they are able to describe, in detail, the function of a watershed and recognize that what pollutes the land will also pollute the water. From elementary-aged students to adults, people understand the model and concept. As a result, they leave more aware, educated citizens, ready to make responsible choices for our watersheds.
A Project WET Co-Coordinator in South Carolina, Maddi Phillips is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District, one of Project WET's partners in South Carolina.