Creek 101: Take Me to the River

 “Where did the river go?”

So wondered Heal the Bay’s inaugural class of Creek Week students as they finished their trek along the Los Angeles River, moving from Big Tujunga Creek down to the river’s mouth in San Pedro.

Mere days ago they’d been eagerly wading barefoot,  hunting insects through clear waters. By day four, when they’d reached Compton Creek, they found the waters marred by pervasive concrete and trash and far less inviting for bare feet and insects, which had completely disappeared.

These 56 high school students — from the Pacific American Volunteer Assn. (PAVA) — learned firsthand how the river environment is dramatically changed by human influence and pollution. Kicking off our new summertime Creek Education Program, “Creek Week,” Heal the Bay staff led two sessions in mid-July, taking students through the L.A. River and its tributary creeks, allowing them to explore an environment many had never seen.

Along the way they learned how to perform field science, documenting changes in the habitat, water chemistry, and biology along the river caused by pollution and urban runoff. From that data and experience, students were asked to think about how they can be part of protecting this environment, performing further research or creating projects that address the issues they’d seen.

Creek Week is the perfect mix of personal scientific discovery and environmental stewardship. Students who participated this summer have taken what they’ve learned and shared it with their community, presenting their findings to their peers, and even testifying before the Los Angeles City Council about the urgent need to address these environmental issues. Next summer, the program will expand to a wider audience in the hopes that many more students can become environmental leaders.

This new Heal the Bay Creek Education program focuses on local neighborhood, storm drain, and fresh-waterway issues and how they affect the overall health of the watershed and environment. Creek 101, the school-year component of the program, sees Heal the Bay staff teach lessons in various science and social science classes as part of the classroom curriculum.

Both Creek Week and Creek 101 begin with some background on watershed and riparian science, and then focus on taking students out into the environment to teach them how to perform field assessments to examine and document environmental health and impairment.

The third component of the program, Creek Projects, asks the students to take what they learned in the class and out in the field and apply it to some service learning project aimed at improving the health of their local neighborhood, waterway, or watershed.

Learn more about Creek Week from a PAVA student’s perspective.