by Carol L. Spence
You’re my hero, Devin!
“You’re my hero, Devin!” comes a shout from the shore, where more than a dozen other teenagers are wading in the rocky shallows, gathering samples for tests on pH level and amount of dissolved oxygen. Devin laughs, but he’s obviously intent on getting the best measurement he can.
It was one of the many lessons acquired during Water Pioneers, a unique learning experience for sophomore Robinson Scholars, a program that provides select high school students from 29 Eastern Kentucky counties with support, leadership development opportunities, and a UK scholarship upon graduation. Water Pioneers is led by the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute (KWRRI) and taught by specialists from the institute and the College of Agriculture. It is held over five days at the Lake Cumberland 4-H Educational Center and immerses the teens in activities designed to open their eyes to the importance of healthy watersheds.
“Instead of standing there and presenting information to them, we present issues to them and let them try to reason out the answers,” said Doug McLaren, UK forestry specialist and a Water Pioneers instructor.
“That to me is one of the overriding issues, so that we can develop leadership. Learn how to think. Learn how to question people in authority, not in an argumentative way, but simply to investigate every possible avenue.”
Devin took that lesson to heart when he returned to Martin County and discovered that a planned sewage treatment plant had been put on the back burner because of budget constraints. That meant sewage was being funneled via straight pipe into Buck Creek, a tributary of the Tug Fork, part of the Big Sandy River watershed.
“I was blown away that someone could let that go,” he said.
He tested Buck Creek’s water, taking six samples from the creek over a month, and was startled when he saw the test results from Morehead State University.
“I really didn’t know how widespread our pollution was until I went to Water Pioneers and saw all the statistics and was overwhelmed,” Devin said. He began a petition drive to try to fix the problem.
Stewards of the environment
Devin’s quest has taken a lot of research, footwork, and planning, but none of that matters to the teen. Though his petition drive didn’t draw the attention he hoped, he’s not deterred.
“Water Pioneers taught me everything you do affects the water,” Devin said. “It’s laid a burden on me that I have the responsibility to let my voice be heard.”