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Water conservation is child's play in NMSU's Valencia County Extension program

BELEN - How many ways can one conserve water in the home?

Valencia County Boys and Girls Club members at Belen's Jaramillo Elementary School learn how water erodes soil while watching the water flow in the Cuidad Soil and Water Conservation District's Rolling River exhibit. The children participated in a water conservation four-week program taught by the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service staff.(NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

That was the question asked of the children participating in the Valencia County Boys and Girls Club after-school program at Belen's Jaramillo Elementary School.

They learned the answer during a four-week water conservation education program presented each Tuesday by the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service's Valencia County staff.

"Since Gov. Bill Richardson has declared this the 'Year of Water,' we thought it would be a good time to teach the 75-plus students where our water comes from," said Rhonda Meadors, program assistant. "During the program the youth have learned such topics as how New Mexico uses its water, how irrigation has changed over the years, how water is used residentially and ways to conserve it wisely."

The group leaders followed the "Rio! The Water Detective" curriculum that was developed by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.

"The curriculum included a booklet of weekly learning activities and the board game Aquifer Game, which the students took home to enjoy and teach other family members ways to conserve water," said Meadors.

Meadors and her staff of three will present the hands-on learning experience to students at Belen's Dennis Chavez Elementary School and Los Lunas' Katherine Gallegos Elementary School after-school programs during March and April.

"The program is funded by a grant from the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, which set aside $50,000 of its federal funding for Extension educational programs along the Rio Grande corridor, of which we received $5,000 that provided for materials and three additional employees, Sherlene Romero and high school students Alexandria Romero and Morgan Smith, to help present the lessons," Meadors said. "I also have additional help from Zach Romero, a volunteer from Los Lunas Middle School."

The Rio Grande Basin Initiative is a program jointly run by NMSU and Texas A&M University, which received the 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture Integrated Water Programs Team Award. The program receives federal funds to conduct targeted research and Extension activities to help agriculture producers, urban landscapers and irrigation districts achieve needed conservation.

"The Rio Grande Basin Initiative divides its funding into smaller projects, all directly related to water conservation and irrigation efficiency," Meadors said.

The final day of the after-school program was a splashing success as students watched water flow through the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District's Rolling Rivers traveling exhibit.

"The Rolling River is a working model of a watershed, mounted on a trailer that is transported to schools and special events," said Sue Hansen, project manager who coordinates the exhibit for the district that serves Bernalillo and portions of Sandoval and Torrance counties.

The trailer is filled with sand-like plastic granules that can be molded into nearly any type of landscape by forming hills, plains and valleys. With the addition of toy houses, greenery, animals, roads and cars to the landscape a miniature world appears. Hidden plumbing allows water to flow through the landscape to form a river, wetlands and a lake to rise and fall in response to simulated flood and drought cycles.

"The Rolling River exhibit is a wonderful way to conclude our water conservation program," said Meadors. "The students can see the affect of water on the landscape. They see sides of the arroyo erode as the water flows by and how the rising water in the lake causes the water table to rise into wetlands on the lower land."

Last but not least, the answer to the question: How many ways can one conserve water in the home? Fix leaky faucets and toilets. Turn down the volume of water to sink faucets. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and laundry washing machine. Don't use the hose to clean the sidewalk. Catch rain to water plants.