“Lollipop sticks!” “Banana peels!” “Plastic bottles!” “Candy wrappers!” When Lisa Dunne, an Americorps watershed ambassador, asked about what items could pollute the lake, she got a range of answers from the children gathered at the E. Louis Childs Memorial Public Library in Hopatcong on Thursday.
About two dozen young residents were on hand for the “Traveling Tales of Water Pollution” program to learn how to protect Lake Hopatcong and other bodies of water from contamination.
As part of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s joint public awareness efforts with Americorps, Dunne represented the Upper Delaware Region of the state, and brought with her a range of activities to help the children in attendance learn about pollution and how it can reach the lake and, ultimately, the ocean.
She started out by asking everyone to hold out their hands, curling their fingers up slightly to make a cup. The watershed, she said, is like their hands. “Pretend the fingertips are the mountains and your palm is the valley,” she said. In the rain, even the water that hit the ends of the fingers would end up down in the palm. That translates on a much larger scale to the Lake Hopatcong watershed, she said. “All of the rain that falls right here is going to end up in the lake.”
As a result, litter that is tossed into storm drains, pet waste that isn’t cleaned up and properly disposed of, oil that leaks out of cars, fertilizer that’s used on lawns—all of that, she said, gets flushed into the lake during a rainstorm.
In addition to reading a book, “All the Way to the Ocean” by Joel Harper, Dunne stood behind a plastic replica of a town and asked the children where sources of pollution might come from. A young girl who suggested that oil from cars could pollute the lake, for example, went up and squirted oil along the plastic roadways. Another scattered bits of litter near the homes, and another squirted fertilizer on the lawns. Then Dunne replicated a rain storm with a spray water bottle, and all of the material ended up pooling in the lake.
“Would you want to go swimming here?” she asked the group. A resounding “No!” came from the children.
The group then received drawing paper so each child could create his or her perfect waterfront property, “building” whatever they wanted on it. Houses, gardens, zoos, fields, dog houses… they were all lined up next to each other in an imaginary lakefront community. Then Dunne, along with Donna Macalle-Holly of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, went through, property by property, to talk about what sources of pollution might come from their land.
In the end, the children learned how, even if they aren’t right by the lake, their actions might affect Lake Hopatcong—and, eventually, the Musconetcong River, which feeds into the Delaware River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. Cleaning up pet waste (and properly disposing of it, not tossing it into a storm drain), making sure their parents use fertilizer that has a zero as it’s middle number (which represents phosphate content), not littering, and cleaning up any garbage they see on the ground are all ways to ensure the health of the watershed ecosystem.
“I liked it best when we got to go up and put stuff on the watershed,” eight-year-old Tyler Turnage said afterward. His twin sister, Theresa, also had a great time. “It was a lot of fun,” she said.
The program is part of a free educational resource offered by Americorps and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, and Dunne leads other such events such as water-quality awareness presentations, rain barrel workshops, plantings, field trip stream assessments for students, and more. “The Traveling Tales of Water Pollution” was the third and final scheduled event in the area (though one scheduled at the Roxbury Public Library in May was canceled due to lack of registrations), but if parents are interested in getting a group together for an additional presentation, they should contact Macalle-Holly at the Lake Hopatcong Commission, 973-601-1070973-601-1070.