FAQ

The RiverWatch Science Program was originally created in 1995 to present the Grade Nine Environmental Quality Unit. Since that time, RiverWatch has been used in several other junior and senior high science courses where a field trip enhances the study of ecosystems and human impact.

As much as possible, this activity should include all students in the grade or course. If taking the entire grade or course is not feasible or desirable, teachers may determine participation through an application process.

Where fees are a concern, it is a common practice for schools to at least subsidize the cost for their financially disadvantaged students  if not all students  and thereby ensure the fullest possible participation.

It is quite possible to plan the entire Grade Nine Environmental Quality Unit around the RiverWatch trip - starting with pre-trip background knowledge and practice tests; to on-site testing of water quality, sewage treatment tours and witnessing our impact on our river; to post trip follow-up and data analysis back at school.

At the Biology 20 level - where a field study is mandated by the provincial curriculum - students are able to observe first-hand the biogeochemical cycling of water, phosphorus and nitrogen. Abiotic and biotic factors are measured and used to judge human impact on a river ecosystem.

The entire RiverWatch Science Program was originally created to present the Grade Nine "Environmental Quality" Unit. River Watch also provides an excellent field study for Biology 20 "Unit 3 Matter and Energy Exchange in Ecosystems".

At both junior and senior high levels, RiverWatch provides valuable experience with the skills required by field studies. This trip also has emotional appeal and develops values concerning rivers and environmental issues.

The new Program Outcomes for Grade Eight Science and Grade Nine Science are scheduled for implementation over the years 2001 - 2004. The new Grade Eight Unit "Freshwater Ecosystems" and the new Grade Nine Unit "Environmental Chemistry" will continue to mesh very well with the field trip opportunity provided by RiverWatch.

Both male and female students can participate equally and the program can accommodate students using wheelchairs.

The fee for a RiverWatch trip covers a full day on the river including such costs as transportation, substitute teachers, raft equipment, guides, chemistry tests, insurance and GST. The RiverWatch program operates entirely on a not-for-profit, user-pay and cost-recovery basis independent of any government or school board support for operating revenue.

The RiverWatch Field Trip carries a significant fee per student along with additional costs for substitute teachers and bus transportation. It is worth noting, however, that a commercial whitewater raft trip of the same duration using the same equipment and guides commands a much greater $100 fee.

For students that cannot afford the fee or the entire fee, many schools subsidize those students from fundraising accounts, parent council funds, departmental budgets or discretionary accounts.

Teachers book the RiverWatch Field Trip believing that hands-on experiences are the best way to teach and learn about ecology. Since starting in 1995, RiverWatch Field Trips have been in great demand across central and southern Alberta and more than 4000 students a year now gather data first-hand from their local rivers.

This hands-on ecology field trip has been designed for to meet the Alberta Learning Curriculum for several junior and senior high science courses. The field trip data collected by students is analyzed back at school to support studies of environmental quality, environmental chemistry and aquatic ecosystems.

Several participating schools - Bishop Pinkham, Louis Riel and Tom Baines - have reported that their students score 10-13% higher than provincial averages on related sections of Alberta Grade Nine Achievement Exam.

A RiverWatch Field Trip is already a quality experience and a local experience. Students examine the health of their local river as it flows through the centre of their city. The quality of the program has been recognized with a national level Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.

The existence of a local RiverWatch Science Program has meant that there is really no need for students to travel outside of their communities to examine environmental quality. RiverWatch offers local programs in 13 urban centres on 8 rivers across central and southern Alberta.

RiverWatch is a recognized service provider with the Calgary Board of Education under Master Agreement #004. The RiverWatch Science Program has general liability, vehicle, equipment, director, shareholder and employee insurance.

Before the activity, office staff with RiverWatch arranges the booking, answers questions and provides relevant information such as a Parent Newsletter. The newsletter contains a program description, a route map, gear list, expectations for the day, safety guidelines and a list of potential hazards.

As the date of field trip approaches, contact switches from the RiverWatch office staff to direct contact with the river guides who assist with arrival details, specific requests and weather decisions.

During the actual field trip, schools are matched with expert RiverWatch guides that have post-secondary education in science, outdoor pursuits or education. Each guide has extensive personal paddling experience.

Each guide brings their individual background to RiverWatch and this may include such courses as Alberta Recreational Canoe Association (ARCA) Whitewater Instructor, National Life Guard (NLS) Certification and Swift Water Rescue Technician. Each RiverWatch guide has a minimum standard first-aid certification and some individuals hold Wilderness First Aid Certification or better.

River guides participate in a training in-service at the start of each season. This in-service includes instruction and practice in group management, river maneuvers, risk management, driver training, chemistry protocols, interpretation and curriculum content.

On the actual day of the field trip, students work with a professional river guide. These guides work with science classes day after day each fall and spring along the same section of river. Guides work with a team of students all day and teach them how to be "River Smart" and how to get the most out of the day. Students who listen to all the guide's instructions do be just fine.

The Site
The field trip route map is given to all students and parents ahead of time. Teacher workshops have been provided in the past, but many teachers and schools are now "regulars" with the program and return year-after-year.

RiverWatch guides travel on the same stretch of river each day from mid-April to early June and again from mid-September to late October. Guides are very familiar with the terrain, obstacles, local contacts, times, procedures, weather limitations, river flow constraints and student behaviors.

The Terrain
At the start of the day, students are briefed about specific hazards such as how and why to avoid bridge abutments and how to enter and exit a raft without getting wet.

Worthiness of Equipment
Equipment is maintained on a regular basis at the RiverWatch home base located at the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery in Calgary and at the Goldbar Wastewater Treatment Plant in Edmonton.

RiverWatch rafts are commercial quality inflatable boats with a length of 5-7 metres with tubes of about one-metre diameter. These types of rafts are approved by Transport Canada as "Pleasure Craft under 6m" and are commonly used in whitewater adventures.

RiverWatch rafts are built for whitewater rafting even though the field trip routes do not qualify as whitewater. The sections of river and routes used for River Watch programs are the easiest and safest possible. These Class I rivers are generally free of obstacles or waves and the best passages are obvious.

Raft guides carry portable air pumps to adjust inflation pressures throughout the day. Guides carry repair kits while on the river and the rafts are inspected and repaired on a continuous basis throughout the field trip season.

Animals, Insects and Disease
This is an urban field trip and the usual types of wildlife may be encountered. Students have contact with invertebrates such as worms, caddisflies, mayflies and leeches as part of their water quality study. Very few other animals are encountered along the river, with the exception of perhaps the occasional beaver, ducks or dogs. Mosquitoes and wasps can be encountered during fall trips.

There is one final word of caution about disease. Unique to rafting inside a city is that we occasionally find discarded syringes along the shoreline. We've been advised that intravenous drug users are dropping these needles down storm water drains in city streets that wash out into the river.

If students see a syringe, they are advised not to pick it up. They should simply mark the spot and tell their raft guide. RiverWatch guides are familiar with the collection and disposal of these hazards.

Weather Conditions
It is the responsibility of the classroom teacher to review proper dress for this trip. Students should be told to dress for the weather. RiverWatch provides rubber boots and raincoats if required.

During very cold weather, students are often met at the halfway point with hot chocolate to help warm-up those who may be getting cold. River Watch guides carry extra clothing for students who might need extra layers, a toque or mitts.

The fieldtrip starts indoors and goes indoors again during the mid-day wastewater treatment plant tour. The trip schedule can be adjusted for the weather with a late start or early finish. Unexpected weather can finish a trip early and the guide's cell phone can be used to contact the bus company.

The trip will proceed as planned unless the weather conditions are extreme and involve cold, snow or heavy rain. If the river is too high due to recent precipitation or spring melt, the trip will also be cancelled. Every effort is made to re-schedule cancelled trips.

A RiverWatch Field Trip will likely be cancelled if the forecasted temperatures for that day are not expected to rise above 5°C. Heavy rain, strong winds and falling snow will result in postponement. Light rain in itself will not be a reason to call off a trip.

The actual decision to cancel a trip due to the weather will be done through telephone conversations between a senior raft guide, the Environment Canada Weather Forecast Centre and the teacher. These phone calls will be done as far in advance as possible, but may occur as late as the prior evening or even early on the day of the field trip.

RiverWatch trips will be cancelled if high river flow volumes, floating tree debris and high winds constitute a hazard. This decision will be made through phone calls between a senior raft guide, the Alberta Environment River Forecast Centre, the local fire department and the teacher.

A trip may be modified in the event of light rain, cold or wind, but usually not cancelled. If the weather is a concern, students should come to school with their books and homework completed in the event that the trip is postponed at the last minute.

There is a chance that students may get wet and they should consider this when bringing personal items such as clothing, wallets, cameras and watches. Students should not bring electronic gear (CD players and electronic games) because of the water hazard and the need to hear instructions.

All RiverWatch guides are first aid trained and carry a first aid kit, rescue rope and a cell phone. They have excellent local knowledge of the river.

Each guide has a two-way radio and each group has a cell phone to contact emergency services if required. The river is easily accessible by emergency vehicles along bike paths and roads for most of its length.

The advantage of running a field trip inside a major city includes quick access and response times to police, fire department boat and paramedics. Busses, taxicabs and RiverWatch support vehicles are also able to reach the group at many points along the river.

A RiverWatch class generally consist of twenty-eight students and two supervisors comprised of a teacher and a volunteer. This group is divided into two rafts, with the teacher in one boat and a volunteer in the other. Each boat has its own professional RiverWatch guide.

Should a student require medical attention, the volunteer can accompany the student and the rest of the trip can proceed as planned. Should a greater emergency arise involving the entire class, the rafts can be pulled out and students can be picked up anywhere along the river.

Physical Fitness
Students require a minimal level of fitness. An ability to paddle rafts on the river and be able to help carry rafts to and from the river is all that is required.

Because the rafts are carried and paddled by 15 people, stronger students can compensate if other students are not physically able to assist. It is interesting to note that students using wheelchairs have been accommodated on the rafts.

Special Training
Instruction on how to paddle is given on-site before students get on the river. No specific level of swimming ability is required. Students are given instruction on how to float in the river in the event of falling overboard, as well as how to pull one another back into the boat and how to deal with rescue ropes.

Health Issues
This is a day outdoors, so students should be prepared for that. Asthma sufferers should have medication with them, and students with Epi-pens should have them in their backpacks. Teachers carry personal health forms provided by each student and they discuss specific health issues with the guides before a trip starts.

Behavior Students are expected to participate in the teamwork required to paddle rafts and collect science measurements. Although the general tone of the day is casual and fun, there are many times when careful and undivided attention is required, such as during the morning introduction, safety talk, science kit instruction, study site measurements, sewage plant tour, raft maneuvers and the end-of-day summary discussion.

Students must exhibit good listening skills, be polite, be helpful and refrain from swearing. PFD's must be worn in the rafts and along the shore. Water fighting, splashing with paddles, jumping into the river or jumping into other rafts is not permitted. Students wear eye goggles and latex gloves during chemical testing.

RiverWatch guides are experienced with young people and will not accept poor behaviour. They are professionals and deal with inappropriate behaviour quickly and appropriately. If a student will not adjust their behaviour, RiverWatch guides will consult with the teacher. It may be in everybody's interest to call for a taxi to transport the student back to the school where the student can explain their behaviour to the school principal. Parents and the school principal will be notified about the transportation arrangements before any student is sent back.

A RiverWatch Field Trip is very unique and often catches the interest of local news media. If a photographer or reporter accompanies the school, students should be respectful and thoughtful. The best photographs and quotes are obtained from helpful students being truly "natural". Reporters wish to see students "in action" and learning. RiverWatch staff may also take photographs from time to time for educational and promotional use.

Families each receive an extensive newsletter outlining all aspects of the field trip. Students require a pre-trip briefing at school on what they will be doing and why they will be doing it. Expectations regarding behaviour, participation, clothing, lunch, and safety should be discussed before going on the trip.

Teachers are encouraged to incorporate some level of pre-trip screening process and make appropriate arrangements for at-risk students. Students with special needs are welcome in the program along with their aide or a parent.

RiverWatch was specifically designed around the Grade 9 and Biology 20 curriculum, and is suitable for any junior or senior high grade.

River Watch is a LOW RISK activity. This is based on the amount of professional supervision, the urban location and the Class I level of the river. Since starting in 1995, the RiverWatch program has worked with tens-of-thousands of students and there has not been any safety incident involving students, rafts, science equipment or medical attention.

There are potential hazards during a raft float trip and shoreline science studies. These potential hazards are known, anticipated, prepared for and are discussed with students and teachers. The hazards mostly relate to:

  • Terrain:
    any manner of falls on slippery, rocky, loose, steep, icy or uneven shoreline.
  • Weather:
    any exposure to cold or heat, rain, hail, lightning, reflected sunlight or wind.
  • Animals:
    the Giardia parasite, virus, bacteria, insects, stings, bites, spiders or dogs.
  • Plants:
    any algae, waterweeds, stinging nettles, branches or thorns.
  • People:
    other participants, drivers, anglers, boaters, cyclists, rollerbladers or joggers.
  • Gear:
    the use, misuse, non-use, carrying or failure of any gear including vehicles, rafts, paddles, PFD's, lines, containers, chemistry kits or safety equipment.
  • Litter:
    the entanglement in fishing line, machinery, glass, hypodermic needles, condoms or shopping carts submerged or discarded along the river.
  • River:
    the possibility of sudden immersion in cold moving water complicated by pinning, entanglement or collision with rocks, trees, bridges, rafts or paddles.

How have you ensured

Gender balance among supervisors
A class of 30 requires one teacher and another adult. RiverWatch can usually provide male and female guides. Groups can be organized so that there is at least one supervisor of each gender in each participating class.

Supervisors have been fully apprised of their responsibilities
Teachers and volunteers should be made aware of the need to help maintain control of students. This is rarely an issue, because the trip itself brings out the best in students, and the RiverWatch guides are experienced with student management.

Once at the departure point, supervisors meet the river guides and organize students into rafting groups. The teacher should have all medical forms with them in case of an emergency. Once groups are organized, the RiverWatch guides take-over and the supervisor's role is to deal with behavior issues.

Students are not left unsupervised at any time
There is very little spare time on this trip. The only potential "alone" time is during a short break for lunch when students eat their lunch near the riverbank. This is easily controlled be having students eat together.

Special training (including safety measures)
Teachers do not require rafting expertise or first-aid training. Each year of experience that a teacher has with the program improves student preparation and follow-up back in the classroom.

Physical Fitness
The teacher requires no particular level of fitness.

Similar experience (and exposure to the risk)
Because professional guides deliver the on-site program, the teacher does not require a similar experience in advance. However, background knowledge about the workings of a sewage treatment plant and chemical tests for water quality would be an asset to students.

Health Issues
Teachers should be able to put in a full day of supervising students in an outdoor setting.

Volunteers require no pre-set level of training or expertise. They are required for supervision of students in the rafts and on-shore during experiments. They provide an extra set of eyes to ensure students do not wander off while completing water quality testing or eating lunch. The raft guides provide the majority of the instruction and supervision for each raft.

Received all pertinent trip information including emergency procedures The information package provided by RiverWatch is included later in this section. It outlines all the required trip information. This package includes a permission slip, as well as a medical questionnaire. Students may also take an Acceptance of Risk Form home for their parent's signature.

Returned all necessary forms/signatures
Students will be denied access to the trip if all forms are not brought to the school before the trip.

Attended all meetings of the trip
Meetings for the trip take place in the science class, where expectations are reviewed and information handouts are circulated. Students that obtain handouts late should receive a personal review of the expectations before being given the handout.

Understood the consequences of inappropriate behaviour
The consequences of inappropriate behavior are outlined in the family newsletter and should be discussed with students before the trip. Inappropriate behaviors cannot jeopardize the safety and enjoyment of the entire group. The school policies on smoking, drugs, alcohol, fighting all apply during a field trip.

The guides are all young people with an upbeat and friendly manner. Their good-natured humor and enthusiasm go a long way toward promoting good behavior amongst the students.

Teachers require signed permission forms and health information forms for each student. Student health forms are brought during the trip and are only for use during an emergency. Only adult waivers are handed to the raft guide and retained on file.

No student has ever had to swim during a RiverWatch Field Trip. When you think that tens-of-thousands of students have stayed dry, the chances of having to swim are pretty small!

RiverWatch rafts are very wide and stable. However, each student wears a personal floatation device (PFD) just in case they do slide overboard. On the slim chance that you might fall in, your raft guide will explain the safety procedures for conducting this type of "self-guided rafting trip"!

Non-swimmers travel on all sorts of boats like B.C. Ferries and Caribbean Cruises. However, if you are a non-swimmer and a bit nervous at first, try sitting next to the raft guide for extra reassurance. After the first half-hour, we find that even the most uneasy person is able to relax and enjoy the trip.

Some RiverWatch students do get wet, but usually not while rafting down the river. Getting wet can occur when students choose not take the advice of their guide. These students are in a hurry to exit the raft and end-up in the deep-water-end farthest from shore.

Another "getting wet" problem occurs because all of our rubber boots have holes in them! Yes, there are holes at the top where your foot slides in! If you walk out too far and too deep from shore, you might have soggy socks all day.

Remember, wade shallow!

Is water wet? Of course you'll have fun! Although collecting scientific data is serious business, there's lots of time to talk, joke, eat and relax during the rafting part of the trip. Carrying rafts and paddling takes teamwork and someone is always doing or saying something funny. RiverWatch makes for a day that you'll never forget!

Water fights! They sound like fun but even on hot days, getting wet can be a hypothermia problem. On cool days, getting wet can be very serious. It's often breezy out on the river and there are very few places to go indoors to warm-up or change clothes. We ask that you not get anyone wet.

What often starts out as innocent splashing often ends up making people very cold and uncomfortable. Splashing and spraying water might be okay if everyone wore a wet suit! However, this is not a wet-suit-and-whitewater raft trip.

For an enjoyable day with RiverWatch, everyone should stay dry.

The only whitewater that we might see with RiverWatch is in the form of chunks of shore ice early in the spring! The rivers we use are Class I - the easiest and safest possible. River Watch doesn't apologize for the lack of whitewater - we're out to do important scientific work that helps take care of rivers.

Would you really want to bring sharp, pointed hooks into a rubber raft filled with pressurized air? We'd appreciate it if you wouldn't bring fishing rods. We also have a very busy day with no time to go fishing!

The outside of a river bend is usually the deepest and fastest. Some straight sections alternate between shallow riffles followed by slow, deep pools. Sometimes, a river is so shallow that we get stuck on gravel bars and have to get out and walk for a bit. Other times, the river is so deep and slow that everyone has to paddle or we go nowhere!

Are you always happy? Always sleepy? Forever hungry? Rivers also change from moment to moment. It's not really possible to say for sure how deep and how fast a river is. If you'd like to know how deep the water is at any one spot, just stick your paddle straight down.

You and a team of students will be working with a professional river guide. Your guide works with classes just like yours day-after-day each fall and spring. Your guide will teach you how to be safe and how to get the most out of the day. Listen to all the guide's instructions and you'll be just fine.

Here's a final word of caution about your safety. One strange problem with rafting inside a city is that we occasionally find discarded syringes along the shoreline. We've been advised that intravenous drug users are dropping these needles down storm drains that wash out into the river.

If you find a discarded syringe, do not pick it up. Simply mark the spot and tell your raft guide. Our river guides have been properly trained to collect and dispose of these hazardous materials.

There is often a washroom where we meet first thing in the morning, and there may be another washroom at the lunch spot. However, don't count on it! You may have to "rough it!"

Of course the sewage treatment plant smells! Try pinching your nose shut if the smell bothers you too much. It's all in the cause of science!

We tour through wastewater treatment plants to see how engineering technology is used to lessen our impact on the health of rivers. Most people find it an eye-opening experience!

Students rafting in southern Alberta may see a weird thing on their rivers. Or, more precisely, they may see a "weir" thing!

A "weir" is a low, concrete dam stretching from shore to shore across a river. A weir is designed to raise the river level by a meter or so. The higher river level then allows water to be channeled off into an irrigation canal.

Irrigation canals eventually distribute water to thirsty crops in southern Alberta. Land that would not normally support agriculture is then able to produce food for our tables or feed for cattle.

The drop over a weir looks like a fun challenge in a boat or inner tube, or even a great spot for fishing, but weirs are nicknamed "drowning machines" for good reason. The Bow River Weir in Calgary has claimed many lives in the past. The water falling over the low dam recirculates around and around. Anyone caught in this recirculation is almost certain to drown. We stay far away from weirs!

A full-day with a commercial whitewater rafting trip using exactly the same rafts, river guides, paddles, trucks and trailers would likely cost $100 or more.

RiverWatch fees are 1/3 to ½ that cost! The reason is that governments, charitable foundations and corporations have contributed funding for the equipment, web site and base of operations.

Your student fee goes to operating RiverWatch as a not-for-profit science program. Students pay exactly what it costs to run the program - no more, no less.

We've had RiverWatch teachers report back to us that their students are scoring up to 15% above the provincial average in related Achievement Exams. That alone makes the trip worthwhile!

RiverWatch Science also teaches the river monitoring skills used by professional ecologists. The science data you collect along the river and then analyze back at school will help make a difference in the health of our rivers.

You can be proud to help with an important environmental project like RiverWatch!

The RiverWatch Science Program was originally created in 1995 to present the Grade Nine Environmental Quality Unit. Since that time, RiverWatch has been used in several other junior and senior high science courses where a field trip enhances the study of ecosystems and human impact.

As much as possible, this activity should include all students in the grade or course. If taking the entire grade or course is not feasible or desirable, teachers may determine participation through an application process.

Where fees are a concern, it is a common practice for schools to at least subsidize the cost for their financially disadvantaged students - if not all students - and thereby ensure the fullest possible participation.

It is quite possible to plan the entire Grade Nine Environmental Quality Unit around the RiverWatch trip - starting with pre-trip background knowledge and practice tests; to on-site testing of water quality, sewage treatment tours and witnessing our impact on our river; to post trip follow-up and data analysis back at school.

At the Biology 20 level - where a field study is mandated by the provincial curriculum - students are able to observe first-hand the biogeochemical cycling of water, phosphorus and nitrogen. Abiotic and biotic factors are measured and used to judge human impact on a river ecosystem.

The entire RiverWatch Science Program was originally created to present the Grade Nine "Environmental Quality" Unit. River Watch also provides an excellent field study for Biology 20 "Unit 3 Matter and Energy Exchange in Ecosystems".

At both junior and senior high levels, RiverWatch provides valuable experience with the skills required by field studies. This trip also has emotional appeal and develops values concerning rivers and environmental issues.

The new Program Outcomes for Grade Eight Science and Grade Nine Science are scheduled for implementation over the years 2001 - 2004. The new Grade Eight Unit "Freshwater Ecosystems" and the new Grade Nine Unit "Environmental Chemistry" will continue to mesh very well with the field trip opportunity provided by RiverWatch.

Both male and female students can participate equally and the program can accommodate students using wheelchairs.

The fee for a RiverWatch trip covers a full day on the river including such costs as transportation, substitute teachers, raft equipment, guides, chemistry tests, insurance and GST. The RiverWatch program operates entirely on a not-for-profit, user-pay and cost-recovery basis independent of any government or school board support for operating revenue.

The RiverWatch Field Trip carries a significant fee per student along with additional costs for substitute teachers and bus transportation. It is worth noting, however, that a commercial whitewater raft trip of the same duration using the same equipment and guides commands a much greater $100 fee.

For students that cannot afford the fee or the entire fee, many schools subsidize those students from fundraising accounts, parent council funds, departmental budgets or discretionary accounts.

Teachers book the RiverWatch Field Trip believing that hands-on experiences are the best way to teach and learn about ecology. Since starting in 1995, RiverWatch Field Trips have been in great demand across central and southern Alberta and more than 4000 students a year now gather data first-hand from their local rivers.

This hands-on ecology field trip has been designed for to meet the Alberta Learning Curriculum for several junior and senior high science courses. The field trip data collected by students is analyzed back at school to support studies of environmental quality, environmental chemistry and aquatic ecosystems.

Several participating schools - Bishop Pinkham, Louis Riel and Tom Baines - have reported that their students score 10-13% higher than provincial averages on related sections of Alberta Grade Nine Achievement Exam.

A RiverWatch Field Trip is already a quality experience and a local experience. Students examine the health of their local river as it flows through the centre of their city. The quality of the program has been recognized with a national level Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.

The existence of a local RiverWatch Science Program has meant that there is really no need for students to travel outside of their communities to examine environmental quality. RiverWatch offers local programs in 13 urban centres on 8 rivers across central and southern Alberta.

RiverWatch is a recognized service provider with the Calgary Board of Education under Master Agreement #004. The RiverWatch Science Program has general liability, vehicle, equipment, director, shareholder and employee insurance.

Before the activity, office staff with RiverWatch arranges the booking, answers questions and provides relevant information such as a Parent Newsletter. The newsletter contains a program description, a route map, gear list, expectations for the day, safety guidelines and a list of potential hazards.

As the date of field trip approaches, contact switches from the RiverWatch office staff to direct contact with the river guides who assist with arrival details, specific requests and weather decisions.

During the actual field trip, schools are matched with expert RiverWatch guides that have post-secondary education in science, outdoor pursuits or education. Each guide has extensive personal paddling experience.

Each guide brings their individual background to RiverWatch and this may include such courses as Alberta Recreational Canoe Association (ARCA) Whitewater Instructor, National Life Guard (NLS) Certification and Swift Water Rescue Technician. Each RiverWatch guide has a minimum standard first-aid certification and some individuals hold Wilderness First Aid Certification or better.

River guides participate in a training in-service at the start of each season. This in-service includes instruction and practice in group management, river maneuvers, risk management, driver training, chemistry protocols, interpretation and curriculum content.

On the actual day of the field trip, students work with a professional river guide. These guides work with science classes day after day each fall and spring along the same section of river. Guides work with a team of students all day and teach them how to be "River Smart" and how to get the most out of the day. Students who listen to all the guide's instructions do be just fine.

The Site
The field trip route map is given to all students and parents ahead of time. Teacher workshops have been provided in the past, but many teachers and schools are now "regulars" with the program and return year-after-year.

RiverWatch guides travel on the same stretch of river each day from mid-April to early June and again from mid-September to late October. Guides are very familiar with the terrain, obstacles, local contacts, times, procedures, weather limitations, river flow constraints and student behaviors.

The Terrain
At the start of the day, students are briefed about specific hazards such as how and why to avoid bridge abutments and how to enter and exit a raft without getting wet.

Worthiness of Equipment
Equipment is maintained on a regular basis at the RiverWatch home base located at the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery in Calgary and at the Goldbar Wastewater Treatment Plant in Edmonton.

RiverWatch rafts are commercial quality inflatable boats with a length of 5-7 metres with tubes of about one-metre diameter. These types of rafts are approved by Transport Canada as "Pleasure Craft under 6m" and are commonly used in whitewater adventures.

RiverWatch rafts are built for whitewater rafting even though the field trip routes do not qualify as whitewater. The sections of river and routes used for River Watch programs are the easiest and safest possible. These Class I rivers are generally free of obstacles or waves and the best passages are obvious.

Raft guides carry portable air pumps to adjust inflation pressures throughout the day. Guides carry repair kits while on the river and the rafts are inspected and repaired on a continuous basis throughout the field trip season.

Animals, Insects and Disease
This is an urban field trip and the usual types of wildlife may be encountered. Students have contact with invertebrates such as worms, caddisflies, mayflies and leeches as part of their water quality study. Very few other animals are encountered along the river, with the exception of perhaps the occasional beaver, ducks or dogs. Mosquitoes and wasps can be encountered during fall trips.

There is one final word of caution about disease. Unique to rafting inside a city is that we occasionally find discarded syringes along the shoreline. We've been advised that intravenous drug users are dropping these needles down storm water drains in city streets that wash out into the river.

If students see a syringe, they are advised not to pick it up. They should simply mark the spot and tell their raft guide. RiverWatch guides are familiar with the collection and disposal of these hazards.

Weather Conditions
It is the responsibility of the classroom teacher to review proper dress for this trip. Students should be told to dress for the weather. RiverWatch provides rubber boots and raincoats if required.

During very cold weather, students are often met at the halfway point with hot chocolate to help warm-up those who may be getting cold. River Watch guides carry extra clothing for students who might need extra layers, a toque or mitts.

The fieldtrip starts indoors and goes indoors again during the mid-day wastewater treatment plant tour. The trip schedule can be adjusted for the weather with a late start or early finish. Unexpected weather can finish a trip early and the guide's cell phone can be used to contact the bus company.

The trip will proceed as planned unless the weather conditions are extreme and involve cold, snow or heavy rain. If the river is too high due to recent precipitation or spring melt, the trip will also be cancelled. Every effort is made to re-schedule cancelled trips.

A RiverWatch Field Trip will likely be cancelled if the forecasted temperatures for that day are not expected to rise above 5°C. Heavy rain, strong winds and falling snow will result in postponement. Light rain in itself will not be a reason to call off a trip.

The actual decision to cancel a trip due to the weather will be done through telephone conversations between a senior raft guide, the Environment Canada Weather Forecast Centre and the teacher. These phone calls will be done as far in advance as possible, but may occur as late as the prior evening or even early on the day of the field trip.

RiverWatch trips will be cancelled if high river flow volumes, floating tree debris and high winds constitute a hazard. This decision will be made through phone calls between a senior raft guide, the Alberta Environment River Forecast Centre, the local fire department and the teacher.

A trip may be modified in the event of light rain, cold or wind, but usually not cancelled. If the weather is a concern, students should come to school with their books and homework completed in the event that the trip is postponed at the last minute.

There is a chance that students may get wet and they should consider this when bringing personal items such as clothing, wallets, cameras and watches. Students should not bring electronic gear (CD players and electronic games) because of the water hazard and the need to hear instructions.

All RiverWatch guides are first aid trained and carry a first aid kit, rescue rope and a cell phone. They have excellent local knowledge of the river.

Each guide has a two-way radio and each group has a cell phone to contact emergency services if required. The river is easily accessible by emergency vehicles along bike paths and roads for most of its length.

The advantage of running a field trip inside a major city includes quick access and response times to police, fire department boat and paramedics. Busses, taxicabs and RiverWatch support vehicles are also able to reach the group at many points along the river.

A RiverWatch class generally consist of twenty-eight students and two supervisors comprised of a teacher and a volunteer. This group is divided into two rafts, with the teacher in one boat and a volunteer in the other. Each boat has its own professional RiverWatch guide.

Should a student require medical attention, the volunteer can accompany the student and the rest of the trip can proceed as planned. Should a greater emergency arise involving the entire class, the rafts can be pulled out and students can be picked up anywhere along the river.

Physical Fitness
Students require a minimal level of fitness. An ability to paddle rafts on the river and be able to help carry rafts to and from the river is all that is required.

Because the rafts are carried and paddled by 15 people, stronger students can compensate if other students are not physically able to assist. It is interesting to note that students using wheelchairs have been accommodated on the rafts.

Special Training
Instruction on how to paddle is given on-site before students get on the river. No specific level of swimming ability is required. Students are given instruction on how to float in the river in the event of falling overboard, as well as how to pull one another back into the boat and how to deal with rescue ropes.

Health Issues
This is a day outdoors, so students should be prepared for that. Asthma sufferers should have medication with them, and students with Epi-pens should have them in their backpacks. Teachers carry personal health forms provided by each student and they discuss specific health issues with the guides before a trip starts.

Behavior Students are expected to participate in the teamwork required to paddle rafts and collect science measurements. Although the general tone of the day is casual and fun, there are many times when careful and undivided attention is required, such as during the morning introduction, safety talk, science kit instruction, study site measurements, sewage plant tour, raft maneuvers and the end-of-day summary discussion.

Students must exhibit good listening skills, be polite, be helpful and refrain from swearing. PFD's must be worn in the rafts and along the shore. Water fighting, splashing with paddles, jumping into the river or jumping into other rafts is not permitted. Students wear eye goggles and latex gloves during chemical testing.

RiverWatch guides are experienced with young people and will not accept poor behaviour. They are professionals and deal with inappropriate behaviour quickly and appropriately. If a student will not adjust their behaviour, RiverWatch guides will consult with the teacher. It may be in everybody's interest to call for a taxi to transport the student back to the school where the student can explain their behaviour to the school principal. Parents and the school principal will be notified about the transportation arrangements before any student is sent back.

A RiverWatch Field Trip is very unique and often catches the interest of local news media. If a photographer or reporter accompanies the school, students should be respectful and thoughtful. The best photographs and quotes are obtained from helpful students being truly "natural". Reporters wish to see students "in action" and learning. RiverWatch staff may also take photographs from time to time for educational and promotional use.

Families each receive an extensive newsletter outlining all aspects of the field trip. Students require a pre-trip briefing at school on what they will be doing and why they will be doing it. Expectations regarding behaviour, participation, clothing, lunch, and safety should be discussed before going on the trip.

Teachers are encouraged to incorporate some level of pre-trip screening process and make appropriate arrangements for at-risk students. Students with special needs are welcome in the program along with their aide or a parent.

RiverWatch was specifically designed around the Grade 9 and Biology 20 curriculum, and is suitable for any junior or senior high grade.

River Watch is a LOW RISK activity. This is based on the amount of professional supervision, the urban location and the Class I level of the river. Since starting in 1995, the RiverWatch program has worked with tens-of-thousands of students and there has not been any safety incident involving students, rafts, science equipment or medical attention.

There are potential hazards during a raft float trip and shoreline science studies. These potential hazards are known, anticipated, prepared for and are discussed with students and teachers. The hazards mostly relate to:

  • Terrain:
    any manner of falls on slippery, rocky, loose, steep, icy or uneven shoreline.
  • Weather:
    any exposure to cold or heat, rain, hail, lightning, reflected sunlight or wind.
  • Animals:
    the Giardia parasite, virus, bacteria, insects, stings, bites, spiders or dogs.
  • Plants:
    any algae, waterweeds, stinging nettles, branches or thorns.
  • People:
    other participants, drivers, anglers, boaters, cyclists, rollerbladers or joggers.
  • Gear:
    the use, misuse, non-use, carrying or failure of any gear including vehicles, rafts, paddles, PFD's, lines, containers, chemistry kits or safety equipment.
  • Litter:
    the entanglement in fishing line, machinery, glass, hypodermic needles, condoms or shopping carts submerged or discarded along the river.
  • River:
    the possibility of sudden immersion in cold moving water complicated by pinning, entanglement or collision with rocks, trees, bridges, rafts or paddles.

How have you ensured

Gender balance among supervisors
A class of 30 requires one teacher and another adult. RiverWatch can usually provide male and female guides. Groups can be organized so that there is at least one supervisor of each gender in each participating class.

Supervisors have been fully apprised of their responsibilities
Teachers and volunteers should be made aware of the need to help maintain control of students. This is rarely an issue, because the trip itself brings out the best in students, and the RiverWatch guides are experienced with student management.

Once at the departure point, supervisors meet the river guides and organize students into rafting groups. The teacher should have all medical forms with them in case of an emergency. Once groups are organized, the RiverWatch guides take-over and the supervisor's role is to deal with behavior issues.

Students are not left unsupervised at any time
There is very little spare time on this trip. The only potential "alone" time is during a short break for lunch when students eat their lunch near the riverbank. This is easily controlled be having students eat together.

Special training (including safety measures)
Teachers do not require rafting expertise or first-aid training. Each year of experience that a teacher has with the program improves student preparation and follow-up back in the classroom.

Physical Fitness
The teacher requires no particular level of fitness.

Similar experience (and exposure to the risk)
Because professional guides deliver the on-site program, the teacher does not require a similar experience in advance. However, background knowledge about the workings of a sewage treatment plant and chemical tests for water quality would be an asset to students.

Health Issues
Teachers should be able to put in a full day of supervising students in an outdoor setting.

Volunteers require no pre-set level of training or expertise. They are required for supervision of students in the rafts and on-shore during experiments. They provide an extra set of eyes to ensure students do not wander off while completing water quality testing or eating lunch. The raft guides provide the majority of the instruction and supervision for each raft.

Received all pertinent trip information including emergency procedures The information package provided by RiverWatch is included later in this section. It outlines all the required trip information. This package includes a permission slip, as well as a medical questionnaire. Students may also take an Acceptance of Risk Form home for their parent's signature.

Returned all necessary forms/signatures
Students will be denied access to the trip if all forms are not brought to the school before the trip.

Attended all meetings of the trip
Meetings for the trip take place in the science class, where expectations are reviewed and information handouts are circulated. Students that obtain handouts late should receive a personal review of the expectations before being given the handout.

Understood the consequences of inappropriate behaviour
The consequences of inappropriate behavior are outlined in the family newsletter and should be discussed with students before the trip. Inappropriate behaviors cannot jeopardize the safety and enjoyment of the entire group. The school policies on smoking, drugs, alcohol, fighting all apply during a field trip.

The guides are all young people with an upbeat and friendly manner. Their good-natured humor and enthusiasm go a long way toward promoting good behavior amongst the students.

Teachers require signed permission forms and health information forms for each student. Student health forms are brought during the trip and are only for use during an emergency. Only adult waivers are handed to the raft guide and retained on file.

RiverWatch is an important opportunity for environmental education - most young people have little idea how their lives and rivers are interconnected. RiverWatch is in high demand by Alberta teachers looking to provide their science students with curriculum-based, hands-on environmental science.

RiverWatch provides all the equipment, logistics and instruction to guide secondary science students through a day of travel along a 10 km section of river aboard large, inflatable rafts fully equipped as mobile water quality laboratories. The aim of the day is to answer the question, “How healthy is our river?”

RiverWatch began in 1995 and is now the most widely-used environmental field study available to Alberta’s grade 8-12 science students. Nearly 100,000 students have now benefitted from the program. RiverWatch’s standard of excellence has been recognized by the Prime Minister’s National Award for Teaching Excellence.

RiverWatch has three fulltime staff – executive director, program manager and business manager – and employs 20 seasonal staff to work directly with students. River guides enjoy working with young people and are often college or university students with backgrounds in education, science, communications or physical education.

Prior to each on-river season, guide staff completes an intense week of training in raft safety, emergency response, science procedures, group management, wastewater tours and natural history interpretation. River guides have standard first-aid certification and are qualified to Transport Canada and Professional River Outfitters Association of Alberta standards for river rafting.

RiverWatch has a perfect safety record – no EMS 911 call has ever been made for a safety incident.

RiverWatch programs are conducted on the easiest, Grade One rivers possible – the travel routes are generally clear and unobstructed. Most programs are conducted day-after-day on the same familiar stretch of river and in an urban environment with access to EMS 911 response.

RiverWatch is an off-site activity with hazards that could result in discomfort, illness, injury or death associated with weather, moving water, equipment, litter, science chemicals, wastewater tours and shoreline conditions. Each raft group of 14-17 students is under the supervision of a school-based adult and a trained river guide familiar with the section of river being used and hazards to be avoided.

RiverWatch provides each student with rubber boots and a PFD (personal floatation device). Raincoats are available for weather and wind situations. Street shoes and lunches are stored aboard our equipment bus and provided to students at noon and the end of the day.

Students bring a day pack, lunch, liquids and clothing suited to the weather or possible changes in weather – layers are a good idea. Hats, sunscreen, jackets, toques and gloves can be good ideas. Wool socks can make all the difference on cool days.

Please keep student day packs light and compact – heavy, bulky packs are a storage concern and a hazard to our staff that load gear aboard the bus. Text books, musical instruments, sports equipment, six-packs of Coke, etc. should not be brought. Cell phones are a distraction aboard the rafts and at shoreline stops - dropping them in the river is always a risk. Devices should be tucked away in a pack and only accessed at lunch and after the trip.

RiverWatch is able to adjust somewhat for wind, rain, snow and higher water flows. Rain jackets are available for all students in addition to rubber boots and PFD’s – windproof and waterproof layers are helpful. Lunches can be eaten indoors while warming up. In more difficult weather conditions, a trip may finish off the river at mid-day. RiverWatch is a field biology experience and perfect weather cannot be guaranteed, but that said, we want our students to enjoy their outing within reasonable challenges.

Students generally enjoy their RiverWatch adventure and are actively involved in the teamwork of paddling a raft, exploring the river valley and collecting science data. Rock throwing, splashing, smoking and jumping in the river are not permitted. Continuous misbehaviour adversely impacting the safety and success of the trip is referred to the attending teachers and in rare instances, students have been sent back to the school by taxi for follow-up with school administration and parents.

RiverWatch maintains a Certificate of Liability Insurance in the amount of $5 million per student.

Parents cannot sign away the rights of children and children cannot sign waivers. RiverWatch and school districts generally ask for a signed Permission to Participant or an Acknowledgement of Risk based on informed consent.

Staff are trained first-aiders and carry first-aid kits, radios and cell phones. Emergency response includes the first-aid ABC’s and a phone call for EMS 911 assistance. It is not necessary to transport sick or injured students by raft as all river routes are quickly accessible by fire department jet boat.

RiverWatch programs operate with volunteers aboard each raft. Parents are certainly welcome to check with the coordinating teacher regarding participation in one of our ride-along opportunities.

RiverWatch is an opportunity to support youth and water education - most young people have no idea how their actions impact the water quality of our rivers. You can support the RiverWatch Science Program as we engage youth in the health of our river systems.

We need your help - support of donors like you has kept us on-the-water since 1995. RiverWatch is expecting more than 10,000 students to participate in programs this coming year and is now moving forward with expansion plans and fund development focused in two areas — student bursaries and the purchase of additional equipment.

The RiverWatch business plan is to double the current student participation to 20,000 students annually by the year 2020 at user fees averaging $20/student. Your donation will allow us to engage the hearts and minds of more young people who will be the key to protecting and improving a sustainable water supply and environment in our communities. Your support will make a difference!

Water quantity and quality continue to be critical issues in the 21st century. Climate change, industrial expansion and growing municipalities impact – and are impacted by - Alberta’s water resources. Hands-on experiences like RiverWatch are an effective means to convey the importance of water in Alberta and encourage environmental stewardship.

RiverWatch has always been a non-profit organization and become a registered Canadian charity 889731857RR000 on April 12th, 2010.

RiverWatch began in 1995 and is now the most widely-used water education field study available to Alberta’s grade 8-12 science students. Nearly 100,000 students have now benefitted from the program. RiverWatch is in high demand by Alberta teachers looking to provide their science students with hands-on environmental experiences.

RiverWatch provides all the equipment, logistics and instruction to guide secondary science students through a day of travel along a 10 km section of river aboard large, inflatable rafts fully equipped as mobile water quality laboratories. RiverWatch does this to a standard of excellence and is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s National Award for Teaching Excellence.

RiverWatch has a Board of Directors who’s experience and skills provide strong direction and oversight.

  • Howard Heffler, Chair, Environmental Engineer and Manager
  • Craig Ikeda, Vice President, Media Consultant, Mustard Productions
  • Terry Antoniuk, Treasurer, Landscape Ecologist, Salmo Consulting
  • Joanne Steinmann, Secretary, University of Calgary Faculty of Education
  • Stacy Lundberg, Fund Development Consultant
  • Steph Neufeld, Watershed Specialist, EPCOR
  • Jim Gendron, Public Facilitation Consultant, LTG Consulting
  • Mike Tyler, Secondary Science Teacher, Calgary Board of Education
  • Cal Kullman, Executive Director

RiverWatch is used by students across Alberta. The major operations bases are located at wastewater treatment plants in Edmonton and Calgary. From the two operation bases, mobile outreach programs extend to Ft. McMurray, Cold Lake, Athabasca, Drayton Valley and Red Deer.

RiverWatch has two major fund-raising priorities - one is operational and one is capital.

  • River School Bursaries place secondary science students aboard a mobile water quality laboratory for a day. The rafts are “rubber buses” that transport “student-scientists” to shoreline study sites to collect data on dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, nitrates, phosphorus, temperature and invertebrates. After touring through the technology of a wastewater treatment plant and collecting data from above and below an effluent outfall, students are better able to answer and act upon the question, “How healthy are our rivers?”
  • Buy-a-Bus Campaign
    Your donation toward the purchase of a new equipment bus will keep RiverWatch traveling to rivers for spring and fall field studies for years to come. Each day, the RiverWatch bus will park beside a river for one-hundred eager students to file aboard and obtain their rubber boots, PFD’s, paddles and water-analysis kits for a river adventure. Rafts are unloaded from the trailer towed behind the bus and students are then ready to travel on another Alberta river to answer and act upon the question “How do my actions impact river water quality?”

RiverWatch is able to provide donors with Charitable Tax Receipts. Major contributions are acknowledged on our website, family newsletters sent home with each student and on our on-site welcome banner.

RiverWatch programs operate with volunteers aboard each raft. Employees would certainly be welcome to participate in one of our ride-along opportunities.

If the opportunity to support water education toward a brighter future is aligned with your personal or corporate interests, we’d certainly like to discuss your support. If you are able to refer RiverWatch to other interested individuals or companies, that would also be appreciated as an important component of our “friend-raising” campaign. Hope to hear from you!

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