Those who visit a local stream, pick up a rock, and turn it over may discover how much life is in that body of water. Such action is encouraged by one Blue Thumb educator so more people may become aware of the ecosystem.

Protecting water through educating volunteers is an aspect of Blue Thumb's outreach, and on Saturday 10 people, from students to stakeholders, came ready to learn. It cost $15 for the training, held at the Tahlequah Municipal Armory Center.

According to its website, "Oklahoma's Blue Thumb is a statewide citizen science program that trains volunteers to monitor creeks and streams and share their knowledge of water quality with others."

"Stream protection through education" is the motto of the organization, which helps people recognize factors such as non-point source pollution through a variety of activities. Visiting a stream to look at bugs, fish and their habitats is part of the training.

Candice Miller, Blue Thumb education coordinator, came from Oklahoma City to provide the training. Miller and her co-workers travel the state, and enjoy meeting people with common interests.

"The best part about these is we get to meet people interested in water quality and the environment, and by the time they come to a volunteer training they're ready to be active," said Miller.

Miller said she started working for Blue Thumb because she loves water.

"I love being in and around water; it's where I am my happiest," she said. "So to be able to do that as my job is exciting, and to be able to share that with other people is really important. You get to share your passion with people every day."

Tahlequah is a beautiful area, according to Miller.

"It has clear water with a gravel bottom in the streams. But mostly, you have people who have lived here their whole lives - or several generations - so they feel connected to the river or stream that runs through their land, and they come to us looking for more information and looking to be actively involved in protection of water quality."

Some volunteers have been with Blue Thumb more than 15 years with the common interest of protecting water.

The training is focused on education to empower volunteers. It was mostly staff that delivered education in the past, but now volunteers are encouraged to share knowledge.

Activities from the Water Education for Teachers guide book are used to help volunteers, and the book is given as a resource to those completing the workshop to encourage outreach. With one activity from WET, the Blue Planet game, volunteers discover how much of the earth is covered with water and, Miller said, "it's the launching point for the day."

Another WET activity is a rainy day hike to see where water runs off.

Zoe Zamora, a junior at Riverfield Country Day School in Tulsa, is interested in environmental science, and chose to attend Blue Thumb for "points" required for school, and information for a science fair water quality project.

"I came so I can help my community," Zamora said. "I wasn't aware of the different types of runoff, like from factories with a license, from dogs and from fertilizer, and that shrubs by water help maintain creeks with runoff, and help prevent erosion."

Friend and classmate Monserrat Zavala also came for school points.

"I learned about keeping our creeks healthy, and now I see the importance of this and why they teach about it," said Zavala.

Also attending was Cheyenne Olson, from Tulsa, who teaches biology at Rogers State University. She wants to involve her students in water protection and education.

"I think they take for granted what's around them or they're not aware of it. Some will never get to experience water science, so I want them to get an opportunity to experience it," she said.

Olson said Blue Thumb does water quality testing, and students don't necessarily think of what's in streams and how they can effect it. She also was impressed by how many stakeholders attended Saturday's training out of concern for the effects of poultry production.

Rhonda Hopkins has lived in Teresita since age 11 and is concerned about chicken houses going up in nearby residential areas. She came to Blue Thumb training to help collect scientific data through a valid organization like Blue Thumb for her local creek.

"I attended a meeting for Spring Creek Guardians and learned about oversaturation of chicken houses. Spring Creek runs through our area. I drove up to Highway 412 to view the chicken houses and there are a bunch of chicken houses bunched together up there," Hopkins said. "I think that close together saturates; the area is a no buffer zone."

On Saturday, Hopkins learned that bugs, fish and other creatures can indicate water quality.

Another concern for Hopkins is the water level.

"When I was growing up we had droughts, but the water never dried up no matter how hot it got. This summer, there were places where the gravel was high and the water wasn't flowing. There were gaps. I know there was water under the gravel, but it has never been this low ever in my life," she said.

Becky Zawalski, Blue Thumb field educator, led a few activities. Gathering in pairs, each was given a piece of paper with a stream indicated across the center, colored pencils, and a challenge to create a story around the stream if they each were given $1 million. After a few minutes to design a simple drawing, each pair told about their picture and "property." The exercise offered a variety of conversations about water conservation.

"Everyone is downstream of somebody," said Zawalski, as she lined up the drawings side by side to demonstrate the connections between properties.

An EnviroScape model showed water flow.

"This also demonstrates how point and non-point pollution flows into a lake," said Zawalski, dropping dirt, and dripping colored water onto the surface to represent different sources of pollution. "Fish get sick and can't breath, dirt fills up holes of habitats, and bugs go, which are what fish eat."

Zawalski offered suggestions to keep water clean, including using a trough or building a pond for cattle instead of letting them drink in a creek or stream, and using environmentally friendly fertilizer and reading the directions.

"And clean up a creek with other volunteers," she said. "Advocacy is a simple way we all contribute, how we can make it better."

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