Local officials visited the Westside Water Education Center in Sonoma County earlier this week to see what other water leaders around the state are doing to educate communities on their watersheds and to conceptualize what such a facility might look like along the Yuba River.

The field study facility is located along the Russian River and is a part of the Sonoma County Water Agency’s Water Education Program, aimed at teaching kindergarteners through fifth-graders about the value of water as a natural resource.

Brent Hastey, chairman of the Yuba Water Agency board, said the facility has two classrooms – including a science lab – filled with interactive displays like an augmented reality sandbox and other hands-on

learning tools. The site also has a drought tolerant garden and a viewing gallery where students can watch salmon swim through a fish ladder during migration. 

“The facility is basically teaching kids the importance of protecting the water in their watershed,” Hastey said. 

Hastey first visited the facility as a member of the Association of California Water Agencies. After taking a tour, he thought the Yuba River might benefit from a similar facility. He returned on Monday for a second visit, along with other agency members, county supervisors, a member of the South Yuba River Citizens League and administrators with the Yuba County Office of Education and Yuba Community College.

“It’s certainly one of those ideas, if possible, that would be great to implement locally to teach future generations about the Yuba River and how important it is to take care of it,” Hastey said.

Francisco Reveles, superintendent of the Yuba County Office of Education, said the facility was innovative and forward-looking. If that same template was applied locally, he envisions it would be a place where both students and the general public could go to learn. 

“It’s more than just an outdoor education program. It would be a place where students from community college and public schools could learn, but it could also be a place for professional development or to host events where speakers give presentations,” Reveles said. “It’s a qualitatively different learning experience; not only curriculum, but an experience as well.”

Hastey said nothing is in the works just yet, though the group is excited about the possibilities and will continue meeting into the future to discuss ways to implement a local program. 

“A site on the river would help us get kids out in the field to have a better understanding of how the river works and how important it is to Yuba County; to learn about that connection,” he said. “I think it is vitally important that future generations understand that connection.”

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