IRU gets outside to share about water use and Idaho’s precious rivers

By Keats Conley, IRU intern

Kids from the Global Gardens Refugee Community Agriculture prepare for an educational float down the Boise River as part of IRU's Water Unites Us project. Photo by Global Gardens Refugee Community Agriculture .

Two recent projects drew Idaho Rivers United out of the office to share about the wonders of Idaho’s rivers.

The first, called Water Unites Us, was a multicultural education project conceived by my supervisor, Boise River Campaign Coordinator Liz Paul, and which I helped pilot this summer. I’ve spent a substantial portion of my IRU internship studying and publicizing the connection between rivers and food. With the rising local food movement, a big part of this year’s Boise River Campaign is educating Idahoans about water-efficient gardening techniques. The goal of Water Unites Us is to show young people involved in local gardening the story of water as it moves from the Boise River into food. The two trips I worked on this summer were with kids from Global Gardens Refugee Community Agriculture and the Boise Urban Garden School.

The outline for the float trips: 9 a.m., meet in Barber Park, suit up in life jackets, get masking tape name tags on all the kids, watch Liz animatedly trace the story of the Boise River from the perspective of a snowflake. At 10 a.m., hop into 12-foot non-bailing paddle rafts and begin the float. Learn about the cottonwood down snowing from the trees, the green head that marks a male mallard, the triangular points of limbs toothed by beavers, the willow shoots struggling to establish themselves on rip-rapped shorelines. At 11:30 a.m., eddy out for a snack break, catch and identify macroinvertebrates, learn the Boise River like a story: its beginning, middle and end.  At 12:15 p.m., climb back on the boats.  At 1 p.m., enjoy lunch in Barber Park and a story-telling workshop led by Story Story Night host and IRU board member Jessica Holmes. Articulate a story involving water while the audience slurps watermelon.

At the end of one of the days, one of the boys from Global Gardens confessed, “This has been my best day ever.”

For many of these kids, this was their first time on the Boise River. Before the trip, few knew the source of their drinking water. Common answers when asked where the Boise River flows: the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Nile. It is surprising how easy it is to take for granted a feature so close to home.

Our second outdoor event also highlighted a resource sometimes overlooked: Kokanee salmon, which travel up from Lucky Peak to spawn in Mores Creek. Kokanee Outdoor Day celebrates these fish, which provide nutrients for the otherwise nutrient-poor Mores Creek ecosystem. Live music played while kids had their faces painted and their fortunes told. My amazing volunteers and I worked at the Idaho Rivers United table, which was actually, in this case, three tables: one table for playing Kokanee Bingo, one table for making recycled water bottle fish, and one slightly more serious table for learning about the threats posed by the CuMo Mine project, which is a huge open-pit mine proposed for the headwaters of Grimes Creek, a key Boise River tributary.

Recycled water bottle fish were a crowd-pleaser. While we didn’t have any water bottle kokanee, we did have a neon orange water bottle squid, several water bottle jellyfish, a water bottle dolphin, and even a purple mutant four-eyed water bottle fish (caused by toxic mining pollution, perhaps?).

Increasingly, young people are alienated from nature, and outdoor events such as these are an important tool to engage the next generation in conserving our water resources and protecting our riparian ecosystems. It is noteworthy, therefore, that Idaho Rivers United is rising as a leader in involving diverse youth in river stewardship.