By Michael Gee and Eddie Kinyon
This past year, three undergraduate students at UC Berkeley supported The Watershed Project by filming and editing two educational videos that answer two questions: 1) What is a watershed? And 2) how does pollution move through an urban watershed? We asked them to share about their experience and what they learned through the process, and here is what they have to say:
The feeling of microscopic needles drawing venom into my hand. I look down and see a plant. Eddie, my groupmate scans it: Stinging nettle. All around us, the water drifts by ever so slightly, eventually making its way into the bay.
It’s Spring 2021. The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re in Pinole Valley Park, one of many local areas that we are exploring in the process of filming our second video of how pollution moves through an urban watershed. Through our video-making, we traverse the East Bay, spanning over many watersheds and visiting access points. Going outside and capturing what a watershed is on film helps us become aware of how to identify and relate to the watersheds we live in. Traveling gives us a welcomed break from virtual class mania. Other places we’ve visited include: Wildcat Canyon, Ohlone Park, and various creeks – we’ve crouched low, crossing train tracks, and progressed through other deserted areas to get the best video shots. We want to capture the flow of water, the people throughout the parks having their picnics, the surfaces along which water travels, the accumulations of debris in gutters and storm drains, and the natural beauty of the East Bay area.
We learned Contra Costa County has beautiful hiking trails and parks. Along with the natural beauty, we also saw synthetic waste products such as water bottles and plastic bags. Unfortunately, industries have historically used Contra Costa as a place to pollute and contaminate with the by-products of their manufacturing. Empowering youth in the community to become advocates for protecting their watersheds through education is a great place to start.
Our team was unique in that all three of us are engineering majors who currently don’t live in the East Bay and had yet to work on a service project. As we learned more about our partner organization, we were excited to contribute to instilling environmental awareness in a youth audience through digital media, which in itself is valuable because of the many learning types. My other group member, and trusty chauffeur during this process, Elena, got her younger brother involved in the creative process of our video. Even though we didn’t get an opportunity to meet with any students this spring, we all agree that this project has been incredibly rewarding.
I wish that I felt part of the Environmental Justice movement when I was younger. Now that I feel more connected to my watershed and the greater watershed that it lies within, I feel a sense of responsibility that I regrettably didn’t before. For a long time I considered nature and neighborhoods as two independent things. Preserving, cherishing, and learning to appreciate our watersheds and communities is what we owe to the land. The experience working outdoors in the East Bay and contributing to promoting watershed education has reminded all of us that while we are all connected to water we don’t need to follow a path of least resistance. It is easy for us to take it all for granted.