Are you smarter (and more environmentally conscious) than a 5th grader?

And, can YOU make a difference in protecting and preserving the world, or at least a piece of it? I recently got a lesson in what individuals can do to make our world a better place.

Laurie Barrett (on left) and her students, L to R: Ivey Riddle, Marijke Johnston, Spencer Morris and Sam Nabors, at the State House with Dick and Mary Ann Bronson and Representative Mark Tuggle (in brown suit)

There is an ongoing effort to protect Alabama’s abundant water resources that has been gaining momentum. You may have heard or read about the need for strong water policy and a comprehensive water plan for Alabama. This has been talked about for years, and the need grows stronger, especially in light of the ever-increasing thirst of neighboring states. To appease Atlanta’s insatiable need for more water, Georgia continues its efforts to dam rivers to capture water before it flows across state lines into Alabama.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA) drafted legislation that would initiate a planning process for development of water policy in Alabama that would protect our state’s waters from exploitation by over-zealous neighbors. The ARA and various other organizations and community groups have been urging state legislators to support this water legislation and submit it to the Alabama House and Senate for passage.

So, what can you or I do to help passage of this vital and overdue legislation? I learned the answer from a group of 5th and 6th graders at Radney Elementary School in Alexander City. Every student in the Gifted Class at Radney composed a letter voicing what clean and abundant water means to them and their community. The students have become ‘environmental scientists’ the past two years through unique, beyond-the-classroom learning experiences, including water quality testing on Lake Martin, examination of stream critters and algae samples, rainwater harvest and water conservation at the school, to name a few.

Empowered with their environmental knowledge, the students and their teacher, Mrs. Laurie Barrett, wrote letters to their legislators urging them to be good stewards of our state’s rich water resources by supporting legislation to protect Alabama’s waters. Here’s what they had to say:

Select examples:

Click here for Student Letters

 Click here for student artwork

In mid-April 2012, HR-674 (the “Alabama Water Sustainability and Security Act”) was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives and the bill was scheduled for discussion during a meeting of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management on April 18, 2002 in the State House. In order to learn first-hand the fate of the bill, Dick and Mary Ann Bronson (Lake Watch of Lake Martin) invited Mrs. Barrett and four of her 6th-grade students to accompany them to the committee meeting.

They joined close to 50 other observers, most of whom appeared to be lobbyists. Mrs. Barrett and her students were impressed with the meeting and took the opportunity to voice their concerns about the need for strong water policy with committee members. They and the Bronsons were less impressed with the results of the meeting, which sounded like ‘kicking the proverbial can down the road’ for a few more years. However, the teacher and students were not discouraged, and vowed to remain engaged in the process.

Click here to read about the students’ trip to Montgomery in the Alexander City Outlook.

This is truly a critical time for the State of Alabama. Either we, as a state, sit passively on the sidelines and allow neighboring states to acquire more and more of our shared water resources, or we act. Let these enthusiastic young students inspire you, as they have inspired me, to pick up your pen and let your legislators know what that stream, river, lake, bayou or bay means to you, and what you believe they should do to preserve these precious resources for our children and grandchildren.

Click here for the list of legislators serving on the JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE ON WATER POLICY AND MANAGEMENT (also see www.legislature.state.al.us)