Mokelumne Current: 6 years of watershed moments

Recently, on one of the last Lodi student study trips of the school year, I sat in the lee of an oak-shaded hillside above Camanche Reservoir with a group of Heritage School fifth-graders, waiting our turn to climb the narrow trail up to the Miwok caves above us.

James Jones, our East Bay Municipal Utility District wildlife biologist, had arranged the day by inviting Fred, a Native American expert on the art in the caves, to lead students up to see it. I stayed on the lower trail as the first group went up.

We redeemed the waiting time with focused conversation. We began asking the students if they knew what a watershed was. They struggled, not able to capture the idea successfully in words. My heart was heavy. The obvious was not yet obvious.

Suddenly two bald eagles squawked and flew overhead, one adult, one juvenile. James interpreted the squawks as the adult’s signal to let the younger bird know it was time to make his way alone. The younger bird was probably a year old, and it was time to hunt without an adult‘s supervision. They saw us, and were gone.

Our conversation returned to helping the students understand how a watershed area functions to drain water from the land, often creating wetland riparian lands near the river bottom, which are important for the wildlife that depends on them for the rich plant life and fresh water. The rattlesnake grass around us waved in the wind, and the students took copious notes. I think they were beginning to understand.

We made our way up to the cave filled with ancient pictographs. The students were awed and soaked in our interpreter’s stories about medicine plants and the meaning of the art on the walls.

Several of the drawings looked like a long snake, with three tongues. He said the snake symbol was the Mokelumne River.

The three-forked tongue was the three forks of the upper watershed, and the body was the lower river. We were quiet and listened — it was a watershed moment. The year of study suddenly took on a different meaning. People had been in this watershed long before us. The students got a glimpse of times past.

The 2018-19 Lodi school year is nearly over and many Lodi teachers and students have spent another year studying the Mokelumne River watershed as part of their studies. Gathered for you in today’s insert, the Mokelumne Current is a small sample of what these students have been studying along the way this year.

As the City of Lodi’s Watershed Program Coordinator, I and my coworkers in Public Works provide the heavy lift of providing whatever support is necessary to allow these students the opportunities of a lifetime — a way of ensuring that the next generation of Lodi residents successfully understands its urban footprint from a watershed perspective.

For this, Lodi is unique among California cities. In fact, no other community in California focuses on its local watershed and its rising adult generation with a watershed-focused program, which includes a year-end newspaper. This is our sixth year of production.

A few very gracious teachers and a supportive school district make this possible. For this, I am very, very grateful for their hard work mentoring our young people.

This would also never happen without the Lodi News-Sentinel staff and their willingness to work with our community. Thank you especially to Kyla and Scott, Margo and Adam and all the other LNS hands that worked hard to get this paper into your hands. Long live local newspapers!

Time, like a river, flows on past, catching what it can and carrying it away downstream. We older ones stand and watch the movement, for a moment, then turn and walk into the day. For Lodi students, however, the morning is seemingly forever young — at least for the moment.

Please enjoy our young people’s work as they soar to new heights, enjoying their new perspective.

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