Water Education Center
Rainwater Harvesting System
Partner: Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership
The garden at the Water Education Center was established in 2015 along with the construction of a classroom and laboratory facility. It is located in what was once an old rock quarry at the intersection of Westside and Wohler Roads in western Sonoma County. Since its creation, it has become the cornerstone of Sonoma Water’s K-12 water education program. Situated along the Russian River, the Water Education Center provides a special opportunity for thousands of local students to explore and learn about the Russian River watershed and the system that provides drinking water to over 600,000 people every day.
One of the primary objectives of a typical 4-hour field trip to the Water Education Center is for students to become aware of the importance of water conservation given our drought-prone region and the impacts of a changing climate.
In the garden, they are introduced to sustainable water practices like choosing drought-tolerant plants, sheet mulching, drip irrigation, installing blue barrels for roof water catchment, and how bioswales can slow, clean, and sink water into the ground.
Students are also encouraged to experience the garden with their senses. They might touch the smooth, cool trunk of a Madrone tree, take in the candy-like smell of a Lemon balm leaf, or feel the sharp edges of a Coast live oak leaf. These activities encourage students to develop their scientific observation skills which they draw upon throughout the field trip.
The garden also provides an opportunity for students to learn about the human connections to plants. Many students have been caught sneaking a Mugwort leaf in their pocket upon learning how Native Americans in California use it medicinally to promote healthy sleep and to enhance their dreams.
Often animals are the hook educators use to interest students in the garden. Anna’s hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the Pink honeysuckle that climbs the split rail fence, Pipevine swallowtails, Red admirals, and Common buckeyes are just a few of the many butterflies that visit the garden and grab students’ attention.
Plants and their unique attributes provide unlimited learning opportunities for students. As educators, one of our biggest challenges is that there is too little time and too much to do in a 4-hour field trip.
A visit to the Water Education Center and Garden is a family-friendly field trip across the Russian River over the single-lane Wohler Bridge through a native plant garden and into the classroom where you will likely learn something new about plants, our watershed, and where our water comes from. Bring your lunch and enjoy a picnic under the Redwoods in the adjacent Maxwell Grove.