By Jenny Ellis, Aspen High School
As a sophomore chemistry student at Aspen High School, I am always getting opportunities to learn more about the world around me with my peers and how it relates to anything from brushing our teeth to major water systems in Colorado. This year I had the privilege of being able to work in a small group of my peers alongside Sarah Johnson of Wild Rose Education and director of the Youth Water Leadership Program, focused on specific aspects of how to improve the quality of the Colorado River.
After selecting all the different water, river and climate change-related topics my classmates were curious about, we split up into groups within our own personal interests. The student-lead groups then immediately got to work on researching and exploring their specific concerns. Our class had issues ranging from the impacts of desalination to the types of Colorado River fish affected by pollution. My group of six chose to work on the issue of the farming and agriculture impacts on the Colorado River.
My group discovered it is apparent that the Colorado River and the ecosystems within it are negatively affected by bad agricultural practices like using harmful pesticides and fertilizers after speaking with local farmer Bill Fales of Carbondale, Colorado and doing lots of research. We care about this topic because more than 40 million people in the US use the Colorado River for drinking water, farming, and many other purposes. And when it becomes contaminated, humans can be affected. There are many health issues that result from drinking chemical-filled water, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders. In addition, since much of the water we use to irrigate our farmland comes from groundwater aquifers and surface reservoirs, it is very plausible that agricultural runoff may have a very high likelihood of being polluted by pesticides or fertilizers. Not only humans are affected; the river’s aquatic ecosystem balance can be affected by the unfamiliar organic compounds and can be altered for the worse.
But after working with our new knowledge and with the support of Sarah Johnson and Bill Fales, my group and I were able to come up with a potential solution we are excited to share with everyone. Farmers should be using biopesticides on their crops. Biopesticides are pesticides made of naturally occurring substances that have the same properties of pesticides, just without the harmful chemicals. Some examples of biopesticides are citronella, garlic oil, and baking soda. This type of mindful farming we believe can help the Colorado River and humans stay healthy.
For me and many others that got to work with the Youth Leadership Program, it was an incredible learning opportunity that most students or adults do not have access to. I felt very privileged to be able to use this program’s Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit and this blog to spread the voices of the youth and feel validated. My experience also gave me many skills including collaborative teamwork, problem-solving, and how to handle real-life people and situations. My time spent working with the program has been a very positive experience and I would recommend it to anyone interested in having a say in our “backyard” water systems.
My name is Jenny Ellis and I am an Aspen High School sophomore. Growing up in a very active community I have always loved the environment and the outdoors. My favorite activities are skiing, hiking, and playing soccer. Knowing that the outdoors and taking care of it is so important to keep the things I love around, I always wanted to be involved in the environment. The river project was a great way to introduce me to this type of research and work. I think the beauty of nature is that everyone can find something to love or even rely on within it. And that should be reason enough for all of us to care and protect it. For me, I am so excited to be able to lead the way with this type of work and hopefully inspire others to share their voice and take a stand for the natural world.
Thank to Rios to Rivers for cover photo by Weston Boyles