They were what one instructor humorously called “micro” biologists.
Landfills were constructed, oil spills were cleaned and aquifers (made of ice cream) were eaten.
About 550 fourth-grade students from McPherson and surrounding counties soaked up water-related knowledge for the 10th annual Water Festival Thursday. The goal of the 12 stations and their hands-on activities was to educate children about how their actions can have both positive and negative consequences.
“The actions you take affect the water quality and quantity for today and the future,” Carla Pearson, event organizer, said. “There is no new water. What we have is what we have, and we have to take care of it.”
The free festival is organized by McPherson’s Board of Public Utilities, but more than 100 volunteers from throughout McPherson and Kansas helped assemble and teach the 12 hands-on stations.
Allen Elsasser, superintendent of water distribution at the Board of Public Utilities, used a city model to demonstrate what happens when pollutants — which in this case were Kool-Aid and soy sauce — get into the water supply.
“It’s very expensive to clean water,” he said. “Too bad we weren’t doing this program 30 years ago.”
John Hawk, McPherson Area Solid Waste Utility operations manager, used items, such as mustard, cereal, toilet paper and food coloring to demonstrate the layers of a landfill. Ben Starburg, chemist from the National Corporative Refinery Association, had students help him test the acid and base levels of various substances. Rick Stein of Cox Communications showed children how much oil affects the quality of bird feathers.
These and other hands-on activities helped the children retain and take home this new information.
Tanner Hattabaugh of Soderstrom Elementary School in Lindsborg said he will start recycling as a result of what he learned.
“I don’t want the trash to go down in our water and have dirty water,” he said.
Emma Green of Moundridge Elementary School said she wants to take better care of the water “so we don't take care of it and we lose it.”
Pearson said the students aren’t the only ones soaking up the information. Many of the adults also have learned new things.
“Rarely is there a year where the adults don’t say they learned something new,” she said. “It’s very important we get across to students and adults their actions affect the water supply.”