Brian Burkholder speaks to Chatfield fourth graders about water conservation and protecting the ground water.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Brian Burkholder speaks to Chatfield fourth graders about water conservation and protecting the ground water. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Brian Burkholder asked 10-year-olds about the fresh, 10-year-old water.

Well...that's a deep subject.

"The water you drink is actually pretty fresh...it's 10-year-old water," he told the surprised fourth grade students in Kerry Koenig's classroom last Monday.

"From the time it rains to the time it gets down to the aquifer, it takes about 10 years," Burkholder added.

As Chatfield city water maintenance employee, Burkholder shared information about how to conserve water as well as protect the water sources during a special program at Chatfield Elementary.

During his presentation, he showed the students pictures of each water tower and booster station in Chatfield and outlined how water gets to the inside of a water tower. He also told the students how many gallons each water tower holds and how high it is.

Burkholder told the students they wouldn't find him climbing either water tower any time soon because he doesn't like heights, even to find out what's happening inside a 400,000-gallon water tower.

Burkholder then related how the water has additives that make it safe to drink and helps people's teeth stay shiny.

"We add chlorine gas to make the water clean. The water's already pretty clean, but the chlorine kills bacteria. Chlorine is probably one of the most dangerous, hazardous gases there is, so we have to be careful how we handle it," he said. "We also add another thing to the water...we add fluoride for what?"

A student volunteered, "For teeth!"

Burkholder agreed, "That's right, for your teeth. For every dollar we put in fluoride, it saves you $38 in dental treatments."

Burkholder asked the students if they knew what storm water is and why it must be protected.

"Water comes down as rain and it runs down through the grass into the rock, where it goes down even further to the aquifer," he said. "We bring it back up and make it clean, and we drink it, we use it to take showers, then it goes to the wastewater plant where we make it clean again, then it goes into the rivers."

As the students thought about that process, he continued, "Everybody likes to fish...what do fish have to live in? That's right, the rivers."

Burkholder elaborated on how chemicals and manure over-applied to fields and lawns can affect storm water. "Water comes down, falls on the manure or the chemicals applied to the field, and we bring it back up, but we don't want to do that after it has chemicals in it. What can we do to protect storm water?"

The question resulted in answers that included "don't pollute" and "don't put too much chemicals on your lawn."

Burkholder explained to the students that it's not good to dump oil or unwanted chemicals on the ground just because they're no longer useful. "We collect hazardous chemicals in town once a year and take care of them, and we also seal unused wells," he said. "If you live in the country, you have a septic tank, so we offer a clinic to inspect and maintain the tank every two years."

He also touched on several ways in which the students can help conserve water, including washing full loads of laundry and dishes. He also suggested taking a shower instead of a bath, noting that a bath takes 37 gallons of the 100 gallons an average Minnesotan uses each day, but a five-minute shower only takes about 15 gallons.

Other conservation efforts could include fixing leaking faucets, collecting rainwater to water plants and sweeping garages and driveways instead of washing them with the hose.

"And did you know that for a family of four, they use an average of 881 gallons of water a week just to flush the toilet?" Burkholder added to his trivia. "And that a cow drinks four gallons of water to make one gallon of milk?"

He concluded by reminding the students, "We can't make more water - we have to use it wisely."

Before departing, Burkholder had awards to hand out for three participants in the annual Minnesota Rural Water Association (MRWA) Water Week poster contest. Students drew and colored posters to be submitted for the city's judging and a winner was selected to have an entry sent to the state poster contest, where the state winner's poster will be featured on the MRWA magazine cover.

"There were a lot of good ones - we spent an hour and a half going through them, looking at every one," Burkholder said. "Last year's state winner was from Pine Island, so it's not like winners can't come from Chatfield. For your school, Taylor Morey got third place, Ethan Ruskell got second place, and Breanna Schuchard got first place. Good job, everybody."