Sounds of water: DEQ hydrologists teach at outdoor school in Eastern Oregon

For more than 20 years a pair of DEQ hydrologists have been sharing their knowledge of surface water and groundwater with outdoor school students in Eastern Oregon.

Laura Gleim, DEQ’s Eastern Region public affairs specialist, visited an outdoor school near Pendleton to learn along with the kids. She brought along a field recorder and a camera to document the trip. In Oregon, outdoor school is an opportunity for fifth or sixth graders to leave their classrooms and to learn in the outdoors, immersed in nature. This sort of education started in the late 1950s.

Outdoor school often takes place at residential camps, like classic summer camps. “It’s several days of the kids being out in nature, learning about soil and water, plants and animals, other environmental sciences and nature skills,” she said.

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Teaching at outdoor school gives DEQ officials the opportunity to interact with the public

“I think this is one of the ways that we get to interact with the public in a positive way,” said Phil Richerson. He teams up with Rick Hill, with Richerson teaching about surface water and Hill about groundwater. “… Truly I think outdoor school is one of the best outreach efforts that DEQ can do. I love it.”

Hill said teens and adults approach them often, saying they remember the water lessons from outdoor school.

“I’ve had a couple of kids come up after and say I want to be a hydrogeologist,” Hill said, “this is amazing.”

Professionals from all sorts of jobs that involve natural resources and the environment come and teach at outdoor school. Nichole Erwin, who teaches science at Sunridge Middle School and coordinates outdoor school for the Pendleton School District.

Presentations and activities include search and rescue, weather patterns and fish tracking. Students even had a chance to spray a fire hose under the guidance of wildland firefighters.

The water experts from DEQ standout. Phil and Rick both bring their own models to explain how water flows, and may become polluted, above or below ground. Their presentations often are among the favorites of the students.

“It’s just understanding where our water comes from and what processes contribute to the pollution of that water,” Erwin said.


  • Introduction [0:35]
  • Let’s meet Laura [2:05]
  • Phil Richerson and why DEQ goes to outdoor school [6:00]
  • Rick Hill and why contamination is so hard to cleanup in groundwater [12:40]
  • Nichole Erwin from Sunridge Middle School explains the benefit of professionals at outdoor school [16:15]
  • Wrap-up

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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