In late March, California Water Service (Cal Water) announced the winners of the 2019 H2O Challenge. The contest is a collaboration between Cal Water and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) for fourth- through sixth-grade students to solve a local or global water issue.

This year’s grand prize was awarded to Emily Akimoto’s fourth-grade students from Sierra View Elementary School in Chico for their project to restore the ecosystem and community after the devastating Camp Fire. The students researched and tested local watersheds, installed wattles and plants to preserve Butte Creek, and created pamphlets on how to effectively rebuild after a fire. Their impact resulted in cleaner water, fresh greenery, an informed community, and an outlet for student growth and recovery. The class received a $3,500 grant and a camping trip to Yosemite National Park in partnership with NatureBridge, an environmental science education program.

“Never has a project brought so many tears, taught so much resilience, or promoted so much healing. It is what we all needed,” Akimoto said.

According to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE H2O Challenge Program Director, “Ms. Akimoto and her fourth-graders are a powerful example of how teachers and students can feel empowered after a major tragedy and create real-world solutions by understanding their community and environment and take action.”

Additional H2O Challenge winners were:

  • Second Place: Rachel Lenix’s sixth-grade class from Downtown Elementary in Bakersfield developed strategies to collect rain water for an edible garden at their school. The produce from the garden will be served in the school’s cafeteria. This class won a $2,500 grant, a pizza party and Cal Water prize packs for each student.
  • Third Place: Mike Buckley’s fifth-grade class from Murdock Elementary in Chico monitored their school’s water usage to learn how to reduce reliance on groundwater, and they created a garden that relies solely on rainwater. They received a $2,000 grant and Cal Water prize packs for each student.
  • Fourth Place: Keri Wohlford’s fifth/sixth-grade class from Robert Hill Lane Elementary in Monterey Park planted a water conservation garden and educated their peers and community on water conservation. They received a $1,000 grant and Cal Water prize packs for each student.
  • Fifth Place: Kristen Thomas’ fourth/fifth-grade class from Little Chico Creek Elementary in Chico tested the water quality of Little Chico Creek and educated the community on how to care for the creek. The class received a $500 grant and Cal Water prize packs for each student.

“The winners of this year’s Cal Water H2O Challenge are remarkable,” said Cal Water President and CEO Martin A. Kropelnicki. “The Camp Fire impacted our customers, employees, and neighboring communities in a way that we haven’t seen in the 90 years we’ve been providing water service. Seeing these students’ dedication to their community gives me great hope for future generations.”

Cal Water Vice President of California Operations Mike Mares Addresses the H2O Challenge Winners
H2O Challenge Grand Prize Winners from Sierra View Elementary School
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