Saving local watersheds from pollution was the lesson for Gunston Middle School students Friday morning at Bluemont Park.
U.S. Rep Jim Moran was on hand as environmental science students took water samples in a nearby creek, testing them for chemical toxins and surveying microscopic marine life.
"You are on a mission, a very important mission to undo the damage that has been done to our environment for the last several years," Moran told the students. "You and many other people your age are going to accomplish this mission because you owe to your children and your parents for them to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water."
The event was organized by Earthforce, an environmental education group that coordinates several programs with Arlington schools. Moran encouraged the students to get involved in helping the environment as adults.
"My generation, when we were growing up we just assumed that the air and the water was always going to be clean, we never thought that it might not be one day," he said.
Moran explained the path water follows through communities, farms and agricultural sites and how it collects pollution along the way to the stream.
"Your mission is to make it clear enough and safe enough that you can drink it," he said.
AT THE WATER'S EDGE, sixth grader Thomas O'Neil explained the concept behind bio-testing, the way the students were surveying animal life in the stream.
"We're just seeing if the streams are clean by trying to find animals that live in perfectly clean water," he said, holding a specially designed "D-net" used to gather tiny critters from the stream bed. "If we only find ones that live in polluted water or water that's just okay, that will be a sign that there something in the water that shouldn't be there."
Peering through a microscope, sixth grader Gabe Yudken said he'd spotted something fishy.
"We were looking for larva, but we thought we saw a bug," he said. "Now we're trying to find them under the microscope."
Yudken added he'd worked on similar projects in summer camp.
"I don't do this a lot but it's fun and I wish I could do it more," he said.
After his speech, Moran donned hip high rubber boots and waded into the stream with a net. Student Edward Lounberg helped him collect samples of marine life by stirring sediment and rocks in the stream as Moran worked to catch the material with one of the D-nets.
"I haven't met many people from the legislature and stuff like that," Lounberg said. "I've seen him on TV."
On Moran's commitment to saving the environment and his speech about cleaning local streams, he added, "I think he really meant it because if he didn't, he wouldn't want to come here and do this with us."