Liz Kirchner
[email protected]

Photos submitted by Montgomery County
Montgomery County Stormwater Specialist John Burke uses a stream table to lead students in exploring how changing water levels shape streambeds and landscapes.

In an ecology of cooperation, at least 13 agencies and entities representing Virginia, Montgomery County, the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia Tech, Radford University, Montgomery County Publics Schools, lots of parents, and 300 Blacksburg Middle School students held their third annual Stormwater Day at the Izaac Walton League on Den Hill Road this autumn.


Across the grassy field at the league’s green and white clubhouse with beech trees the color of school buses rising up behind, bunches of kids clustered around six blue-tent stations picnic tables and gazebos

At one station, shallow boxes full of colorful blocks represented miniature towns, one town made of stormwater-sopping sponge meadows, trees, and scattered houses, the other town full of runoff-repelling tin foil roads, no trees and lots of wooden block roofs.

Students from the Virginia Tech Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System Lab shook Minute Rice representing pollutants over both towns.

They said, “okay, you’re the town planner, now. Which town will keep the pollution out of the stream?”

The middle school kids arrange the sponges and plan the towns — competing to get the least and cleanest runoff. Over in the gazebo, kids are recording a water quality rap for VT’s Water Radio. Meanwhile, above everyone, Virginia Cooperative Extension and private Blacksburg company, New River Geographics, were teaching drone safety and discussing the use of drones in mapping and accessing remote regions.

The Izaac Walton League on Den Hill Road hosted Stormwater Day for 300 Blacksburg Middle School students. The national group is dedicated to conserving, restoring, and promoting the sustainable use and enjoyment of America’s natural resources.

Because they manage Municipal Separate Storm Sewers, MS4s for short, Montgomery County, VT and the two towns are required to provide education and outreach about stormwater as part of the larger federal effort working to reduce stormwater’s impact on water quality across the nation.

Reaching middle school students and their families through Stormwater Day was a creative way to address that education and outreach component of these important MS4 permit requirement.

“Stormwater Day is outreach-related to those requirements,” Montgomery County Department of Engineering and Regulatory Compliance’s John Burke

explained. “We met two of the six “Minimum Control Measures” required to be addressed: Public Education and Outreach and Public Participation.”

Burke said the goal of Stormwater Day is for students to have an understanding and appreciation of the environment and our role in shaping it.

Orchestrating schedules and missions wasn’t easy, but Patricia Colatosti GIS technician for Christiansburg and Patricia Gaudreau, a science administrator at MCPS, were instrumental in eliciting participation and helped coalesce the many groups.

Gaudreau is found running up and down a grassy hill playing a game in which many students are “rain” and others are “healthy riparian zone” working to catch and slow rain as they run downhill. The stormwater rain kids, running downhill, are tapped as they run past the healthy riparian zone students, making them spin around the trees and shrubs before continuing, protecting the stream below.

“What was the effect of a healthy riparian zone on water?” Gaudreau yells.

“Exhausting,” one raindrop answers.

As water droplets and riparian zone kids ran up and down the grassy hill beside her, Gaudreau said that community involvement is a particularly strong component for students.

“They see how important the topic is to adults working outside the schools. They also get a taste for a wide variety of local career possibilities. Bringing in many community and university outreach presenters to help 6th graders understand the importance of managing stormwater, we try to give students many different care angles from wildlife and habitat impacts to drinking water and infrastructure concerns,” she said.

The Augmented Reality Sandbox lets people model landforms, then control the rain to see how changes in land shape affect the way the water moves and, in turn, how the water changes the land shape.

Shaking Minute Rice pollutants on miniature towns, playing rain and riparian zone, learning about karst, being impressed by older students who are working to protect water – all these things satisfy state water-management goals while intertwining with part of MCPS goals that engage a education watershed initiative (there are many) called, Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences.

“The goal is to engage students in meaningful watershed educational experiences at a community level,” Gaudreau said.

Every year, Stormwater Day works to reach middle schools throughout Montgomery County. Last September, 80 Shawsville Middle School sixth grade students and 24 adults attended, and this April, 240 Christiansburg Middle School sixth graders and about 56 adults. And they’ll do it again in the spring, repeating these activities for Christiansburg, Shawsville and Auburn Middle Schools.

“That’s what makes this a village effort to raise good citizens for the future,” Gaudreau said.

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