From the Classroom

Water Quality in the Petaluma Watershed

Last week marked an exciting milestone for our Watershed Classroom Program as several groups from Petaluma High School and McNear Elementary participated in the very first water quality monitoring labs together. On Thursday, teacher Susan Smith led three classes to a location near Thompson Creek followed on Friday by teacher Lee Boyes collaborating with fourth graders from McNear Elementary, testing samples from further upstream on Thompson Creek. Their results can be viewed on the Watershed Atlas at, The testing was conducted outdoors using equipment kits provided by Friends of the Petaluma River.

 In order to maximize testing time, the water samples were collected in buckets and brought to campus shortly before the students arrived. The high school students were assembled into groups of two or three and were assigned a specific constituent to test. The constituents tested in this lab were air and water temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, salinity, pH, nitrates and phosphates.

 Once groups were given their equipment and instructions, they were paired up with two or three elementary school students. The older students taught the younger ones what they were testing for and why that particular constituent was important to the creek’s ecosystem health. They then tested the sample together, going through each step of the process slowly and carefully, giving the younger students a chance to use the equipment themselves. Once they were finished, the fourth graders were free to join other groups and explore testing for other parameters. This rotation system allowed for the younger students to maximize their hands-on learning, while the high school students practiced their teaching skills on their specific tests.

 The lab was concluded with a large joint discussion where students shared their data, and the rest of the group determined whether the findings had positive or negative implications for watershed health. The final data from all sampling sessions was collected and imported into the Watershed Atlas database as the very first entries in the Water Quality Monitoring Layer. It was a very successful first sampling day, thanks to the enthusiastic group of teachers and students at Petaluma High and McNear Elementary. We are excited to welcome more students to get outside, get a little wet, and learn more about our beautiful watershed. 

Written by Akasha Schulz-Boysen