December 2, 2005 | By: Terri McLean
Students by stream

The pilot program centers on the Red River Watershed that ultimately supplies drinking water to Stanton, Clay City and the Beech Fork Water Commission.

Until a few weeks ago, 14-year-old Kasey Reed never thought much about the water she drinks – where it comes from, how clean it is or whether there’s enough to go around. 

Now, however, Reed and 17 other eighth-graders at Powell County Middle School are doing a lot more than thinking about this valuable natural resource. They are also working to make sure there will be plenty of safe drinking water for future generations.

The students, part of the school system’s gifted and talented program, are participating in the Red River Mouth Watershed Education and Restoration Project. The project is designed to help students develop an understanding and appreciation of water so they will take a more active role in its protection. 

”We are all dependent upon water for life and health, and protecting this necessary resource is up to us,” said Amanda Abnee, Extension associate for environmental and natural resource issues at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Abnee is coordinating the project along with Judy Dourson, Powell County’s gifted and talented teacher and coordinator, and Mike Reed, Powell County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. It is the first of what Abnee hopes will become many similar educational projects for young Kentuckians.

“If we don’t learn at a young age to make wise decisions, our drinking water sources will suffer and, in turn, so will we,” she said.

Funded by an $8,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, the pilot project centers on the Red River Mouth Watershed, which covers the north central portion of Powell County in eastern Kentucky. A watershed is an area of land in which water drains to a common point.

Students by streamThe surface waters of the Red River Mouth Watershed supply the drinking water for Stanton, Clay City and the Beech Fork Water Commission. The Kentucky Division of Water has ranked it as a high priority for watershed protection.

“The Red River Watershed is one of the most unique watersheds in the state in terms of the quality of the water and the plant and animal life in it, as well as the geological formations,” Dourson said. “As future adults, if they have a deep understanding of their own watershed and its importance to them and their community, they will be better stewards.”

Throughout the school year, the students will use their watershed as a classroom and will learn primarily by doing. Already, they have toured the area and sampled the water, taken digital photos and recorded field notes. They will use their data to develop a watershed assessment and identify potential areas for restoration. They will then implement a restoration plan that will include planting trees along a stream bank.

“We get to actually do the experiments instead of reading about what somebody else did,” said Reed, recording her observations while sitting on a rickety dock along the banks of the Red River. 

“I think this is so cool,” added Donovan Nolan, 14, who admitted to not knowing what a watershed was until he began participating in the project. “I play a big part in our watershed, too. Everybody has a part in taking care of their own drinking water.”

Reed and Nolan are not alone in their enthusiasm. The students were chosen for their demonstrated ability in science and bring a high level of interest to the project, Dourson said.

“Gifted students, by nature, are usually keenly in tune to social issues and problems that face our society,” she said.

“I am learning right along with the students, and I made that clear up front,” added Abnee. “I think that helps break down barriers with them and makes them feel more comfortable about asking questions.”

As students continue through the project, they will share their knowledge by writing news releases, creating videos and sponsoring field days at the restoration site. 

“To be able to participate in a real-life project that ultimately results in action is a rare opportunity in education,” Dourson said.


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Amanda Abnee, 859-257-6094