Where is the water in Holyoke?

By Monya Relles

Note: This is an article from our Salamander Scoop eNewsletter in January, 2023. To read more and subscribe to Salamander Scoop, click here.

Students in Holyoke, Mass go on a walk to find water in their neighborhoods and where it comes from.

Where is the water in Holyoke?

This was the question I found myself asked when pitching the theme of our Holyoke Summer programs to other educators in my community. The theme was water in Holyoke, but where was the water? What did we do with it? Where did it come from? These were questions Holyoke YMCA summer campers helped me answer in June, July, and August.

Over the past year, the Hitchcock Center has had the pleasure of developing a partnership with the Youth Program of the Holyoke YMCA. Our goals for the program were to build community between the Hitchcock Center and the Holyoke Y, to provide the staff of the Y with interactive, playful, outdoor STEM oriented activities, and to empower the students (ages 5 to 14) to be hopeful problem solvers and environmentalists.

So how did we find water in Holyoke? With my favorite educational tool: scavenger hunts! Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite tools for several reasons:

  1. They have low barriers to access. The students filling them out don’t have to read, write, or even speak english. Their answers can be detailed notes or simple drawings. However the students chose to fill out the scavenger hunt, there are no wrong answers.
  2. Scavenger hunts are an awesome way of co-creating knowledge. When I go for a walk around the block, I don’t know where I’m going to find water. The students and I worked together to find tracks, traces, and signs of water, like aquatic detectives. When I get to walk around the block with a group of students, I don’t have to stand in front of a group of students and lecture them about something. Instead, I get to stand side-by-side with them and we discover water together.

So where was the water in Holyoke? Over a few days of walking around the block, we found water on the road, in the sky, in the clouds, in storm drains and sewers, in kiddie pools, gardens and sprinklers, in ourselves and our water bottles, in fire hydrants, and in the trees shading the street and the grass pushing out of cracks in the sidewalk. All within a block of the YMCA. Inside the building we found even more! Pipes in the utility closet, sinks, toilets, and showers, water bottle fillers, and even two swimming pools full of water.

These findings lead to questions: where does the water come from? Is it clean and ok to drink? Where does it go?

Students on a walk led by Hitchcock educator Monya Relles to investigate water sources in Holyoke, Mass.

Together we found out Holyoke drinking water is some of the cleanest in the state of Massachusetts. It comes from the Tighe-Carmody and McClean Reservoirs and although it is treated for pH and taste, it’s so clean that Holyoke Water Works doesn’t even have to filter it. Some of the water in Holyoke is also in the canals. After we use it, it gets filtered again and ends up in the beautiful Connecticut River.

Do you know where the water in your community comes from? Where does it end up? Take a walk around your own block and take note of every time you see water or signs of it. Make a map or scavenger hunt and send it along to me.

Bonus fun fact: The Holyoke Canals are drained twice a year and over the time, Holyoke Water Works has found washers and dryers, shopping carts, tires, and, in October 1991, the dead body of a 4-foot-long alligator.

You can see the display created by Hitchcock educator Monya and Holyoke YMCA educator Kathy Davis summarizing their aquatic summer hanging in the Holyoke Y lobby in late October, and through the winter or in the spring of 2023 at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in the back hallway near the bathrooms.

A map of water and water sources found in Holyoke, Mass created by students in this Hitchcock program led by educator Monya Relles.


One response to “Where is the water in Holyoke?”

  1. Tom Desellier says:

    Water is a wonderful conduit through which STEM learning can be facilitated, flowing along with one’s lifelong experiences.
    Kudos to Monya and Kathy’s work in the field and Monya’s communicating the elegant gravitas of their doings in this Salamander Scoop article.

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