Water Quality Division
Blue Thumb Outreach
The Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) is the technical lead agency for Oklahoma's nonpoint source pollution management program. Nonpoint source pollution -- the pollution that originates from a variety of sources, both rural and urban -- can best be reduced through education. The Commission's Water Quality Education group works to protect streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater, by educating the citizens of Oklahoma on actions that can be taken to reduce our impacts on our important water resources.
Blue Thumb, as the education arm of OCC's Water Quality Division, works to connect Oklahoma's citizens with the natural world. In this photo, Blue Thumb volunteers get up close and personal with their local stream.
Oklahoma is blessed with beautiful lakes, streams, and wetlands. Protecting these resources ensures us safe drinking water for the future, care of our wildlife, and a place to rest and recreate. People who gain an understanding of what happens beneath the water's surface tend to make a commitment to protecting water resources.
Educational activities take place across the state of Oklahoma, and are designed both for specific groups and general audiences. Some of the successful efforts that have taken place over the last two years include:
- Logging Workshops for landowners and timber harvest professionals to encourage environmentally sound tree removal and reduce soil erosion.
- Poultry Litter Management Workshops for landowners and poultry producers to offer alternatives and/or best management practices for land application of poultry waste in sensitive watersheds to reduce runoff into streams and lakes.
- No-till Farming Workshops for farmers trying to reduce soil erosion and spend less money on intensive soil preparation activities through the use of no-till methods.
- Development of three permanent outdoor classrooms for nature and science education -- Blue Thumb Educators, in conjunction with the local conservation districts and generous sponsors, have created outdoor learning centers in Latimer, Adair, and Cherokee Counties.
- Best Management Practice Tours for local landowners and other interested citizens in areas of priority watershed projects. These "BMP" tours allow people to see which agricultural practices work best to protect streams, rivers, and lakes from nutrient and sediment pollution.
The Blue Thumb Education Program also uses a corps of volunteers who are primarily involved in:
- Stream and wetland monitoring
- Groundwater screening
- Providing nonpoint source pollution prevention educational presentations.
Across the state, there are over 80 streams that are currently being monitored by Blue Thumb volunteers. Volunteers come in all ages and from all walks of life. Middle and high school students often work with science teachers, 4-H leaders will choose monitoring as a group project, farmers and ranchers will want to gain data on how the streams that cross their land are doing, and retired professionals find a way to use their skills in the Blue Thumb Program.
Volunteers also actively participate in helping Blue Thumb become a more effective education program. During summer 2007 Blue Thumb volunteers attended Volunteer Leadership Summits where they voiced opinions and ideas about the Blue Thumb program. Take a look at the Volunteer Leadership Summits Report to see what volunteers had to say about Oklahoma Blue Thumb! The brief report combines the information gathered at all three summits and places ideas and comments under common themes.
(Left) Two young scientists hone their observational skills, have fun, and test water on beautiful Flint Creek in participation with the Blue Thumb Program. (Right) A critical component of the Blue Thumb Education Program is helping citizens understand the value of riparian areas -- the zone of natural vegetation along the banks of a stream or the shore of a lake.
Help for Cities
The US Environmental Protection Agency has developed regulations that deal with storm water runoff. Originally, these regulations addressed medium and large cities, but the Phase II regulations concentrate on the smaller communities or those in urbanized areas.
Storm water regulations exist to protect the waters of the United States against pollution. While there are those who simply view the additional rules as "unfunded mandates," citizens are reminded of the joy and benefits that are realized when water bodies are "swimmable" and "fishable."
Waters that are safe for human contact and clean enough to be a home for fish and drinking water for wildlife benefit communities.
|Through the Blue Thumb Program, urban residents are helped to understand that chemicals flowing from lawns and streets enter storm drains, and from there pollutants can enter neighborhood streams and ponds.
The Blue Thumb Water Pollution Education Program can help cities that fall under the Phase II regulations. These cities have responsibilities under the Clean Water Act to educate their citizens about clean water.
Blue Thumb offers cities help establishing education and outreach programs. Components of a successful Blue Thumb Program may be:
- Volunteer monitoring - citizens working together to learn more about their local creeks
- Storm drain marking - placement of the "No Dumping" message on storm drains
- Assistance with newsletters and brochures
- Planning of civic events to educate about and celebrate water
- Blue Thumb educational tools to borrow for local events
It is not difficult to educate citizens and help them gain understanding about the value of healthy streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. City staff members who may feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin are encouraged to contact the Blue Thumb Program to learn more.
Love Your Stream?
Then, Love Your Riparian Zone!
Leave your stream in a wild state! The riparian zone is the area along a stream or lake where grasses, trees, and shrubs grow along the banks. A riparian area left intact is one of the best ways a waterbody can be protected. The natural growth along the stream will:
- Add shade to keep water cool, which is better for stream life.
- Provide roots to keep soil in place and stabilize banks.
- Filter pollutants from water.
- Offer wildlife habitat and corridors for movement.
In urban areas, riparian zones are frequently cleared to make more land available for development or to create a "manicured" look. In rural areas, farming activities may be taking place right to the creek's bank. Help your neighbors to understand the value of riparian areas, and give your creek the chance to be a high quality waterbody.