Water in the American West

This fall Bay offered a new science elective called Water in the American West. Students in the course are investigating numerous aspects of water use and availability, and have embarked on a variety of projects exploring major watersheds of the west, important aquatic ecosystems, and the policies and politics that determine how water is allocated for different purposes, in California and beyond.

To support an understanding of local water issues, the class has embarked upon two local trips. The first was to the Central Marin Sanitation District’s waste water treatment plant in San Rafael. This is a state of the art treatment facility, which uses intensive secondary treatment to purify waste water before it is released into the San Francisco Bay, and even uses organic byproducts to generate methane for its own electricity production. Students had a chance to learn firsthand where their water goes after it leaves their sinks and toilets, and gained insight into what will be involved as we move towards a “Toilet to Tap” future.

A major focus of the class has been on how our use of water resources impacts other species, so the second trip was to Lagunitas Creek in West Marin, where students collected and identified stream macroinvertebrates, and then met with a team from SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network). SPAWN is a grassroots organization working with the National Park Service, the Marin Municipal Water District, and other local groups and businesses to improve habitat for Coho Salmon in Lagunitas Creek, which is a critical spawning site for the endangered California Coho. On this trip, students learned much more about the habitat requirements of breeding salmon, and the ingredients required for a healthy stream system. Students also worked with interns from SPAWN to remove invasive weeds from important flood plain habitat surrounding the creek. The trip ended with a visit to the Kent Lake dam, which partially controls the flow of water into Lagunitas Creek, and whose construction created Kent Lake, the largest reservoir in Marin’s water supply.

For more information about this course, or if you know of resources that might be helpful in future iterations of the class, please contact Adrianna (Jonna) Smyth (asmyth@bayschoolsf.org) or Andy Shaw (ashaw@bayschoolsf.org).

About course instructor  Jonna Smyth:

Jonna came to The Bay School in 2012 to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities afforded by the school’s mission and philosophy. She began her teaching career in the public school system before returning to graduate school to pursue ecological research. As a graduate student, she participated in research on natural communities around the world, including a nearly year-long project that involved living deep in the African bush with Baka (Pygmie) guides. While she loved research, her heart was always drawn to teaching, and so she returned to teaching high school when her graduate studies ended. She is passionate about helping students love science, and to become well-informed citizens. She teaches not only the core science courses, but also electives in climate change, biodiversity, and other topics in environmental science. Outside of school, Jonna is an avid trail runner and mountain biker, and spends as much time in the woods as possible.
B.A., Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
M.A and Single-Subject Credential, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences, University of California, Berkeley
M.A., Ecology and Systematics, San Francisco State University
Ph.D., Integrated Biology, University of California, Berkeley