HII’s Clean Water=Healthy Communities Workshop in East River State Park

On Wednesday, June 19th, students from two classes from a local public school hanging out at the East River State Park joined Human Impacts Institute and other registered participants for our workshop “Clean Waterways = Healthy Community”.

Workshop participants learned about a wide range of water issues from water waste to pollution to water conservation. The children split up into three groups for each of our three stations, rotating every 15 minutes so that each person could visit each station by the completion of the workshop.

At the first station, HII Founder and Executive Director, Tara DePorte, led a discussion about water pollution and possible sources of contamination right in the park, in the East River. She opened with some basic yet challenging questions about the river; Where does the river eventually flow? What kind of water makes up the East River? The name of the East River is misleading because it is actually a strait, not a river, that connects the Upper New York Bay to the Long Island Sound. It is made up of brackish water, which occurs when seawater and freshwater mix. Next, Tara invited the participants to brainstorm some possible sources of pollution of the East River. She rolled out a map of the river and participants drew cars, factories, and boats pouring pollution into the river water.


At the next station, the children took on the role of scientists, analyzing the water quality of the river with HII Education Intern Marcela Miceli. Everyone snapped on a pair of gloves, pushed up their glasses, and grabbed a beaker from Marcela’s handy water quality test kit. Using water samples right from the East River, the participants and Marcela tested everything from the pH, to ammonia, to the nitrite, and nitrate levels of the river, learning what was considered healthy and unhealthy levels.

At the final station, workshop participants joined HII Education Intern, Anna Poon, for the Sewer in a Suitcase demonstration. Anna opened up the suitcase into a model city, complete with its own ‘sewage’ system and sewage treatment plant. Participants then raced to the waterfront to scoop up cupfuls of water to aide with the demonstration. Anna then explained how the city’s pipes and sewer system is supposed to work functionally, if all goes well, and asked the kids to think about what kinds of things they put in the water at home, in the kitchen, and in the bathroom. The children were not shy shouting everything from soap, dirt, toothpaste, to poop and pee! As part of the demonstration, everyone took some shiny brown sequins to represent the things that went down the drain with the water in their homes, and dropped it into the water system of the model city. When Anna ‘turned on’ the sewer system and water started pouring out from the city into the ‘sea,’ none of the brown sequins ended up in the sea because they had been properly filtered out.


Next, to show what can go wrong when the sewers are overwhelmed in a storm, Anna asked the participants to take their cups of water and pretend it was Hurricane Sandy again. The kids enthusiastically dumped their cups into the city, and watched as brown sequins started pouring out the other end too, showing that the filtration system didn’t work as well when there was too much water for it to handle.

In the last few minutes of the workshop, Tara held a fun competition for the participants on an East River fish and bird memory quiz. The winner walked away with a free DVD of “An Inconvenient Truth”!

All in all, it was a great day in the park and by the river for everyone involved! Want to learn more about our future workshops? Click here!


This project was funded by a cooperative agreement awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in Partnership with the New York- New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program

Anna Poon, Environmental Education Intern, The Human Impacts Institute

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