Sitara Simons is a high school junior studying environmental studies with a zeal for water issues. After completing a weeklong 64 mile hike near Los Altos two years in a row and seeing depleted water levels in local creeks during 2014, she developed a keen interest in water resources management.

Through the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Youth Stewardship Commission, she learned that areas of Santa Clara County had sunk 13 feet in the last century due to groundwater overuse. Now she is much more conscious about the misuse of water on a daily basis. “Even when it’s raining, I know it’s important to save water because our groundwater levels aren’t restored yet,” she said.

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The water district provides an opportunity for high school students to get a behind-the-scene look at what it takes to provide nearly 2 million people clean, safe water. Since 2009, the Youth Stewardship Commission (YSC) has cultivated student leaders interested in learning about environmental stewardship of creeks, bays, and watersheds, water district facilities and operations, as well as water industry careers.

In May, the water district was proud to graduate the fifth class of the YSC. Thirty high school students from across the county participated in the five month program. Students attended evening commission meetings with district speakers and completed tasks related to a specific topic each month. Commissioners also had the choice of additional electives such as attending and reporting on a water district board meeting, touring the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, participating in a creek clean-up or leading informational activities at their schools. Students also had the opportunity to participate in the district’s Job Shadow Day, with many of them visiting water district facilities as well as creeks.

“It really opened my eyes to environmental policy and resources management,” said Sitara. Unsure of what career path she will pursue, she became aware of opportunities in government and public administration.

The YSC attracts students that are motivated about caring for the environment and seeking to develop leadership skills; many of them also serve on city youth commissions or are involved in and have founded school clubs. Several students from this year’s class were so impassioned by the topics covered during commission meetings, they wrote articles for their school paper.

At the final YSC evening meeting and completion ceremony, students asked water district leadership firsthand questions about water management challenges in Santa Clara County and meeting the needs of the diverse communities within the county. Every one of the student commissioners was interested in participating in volunteer opportunities with the water district beyond the YSC, like additional facility tours and creek clean-up events.

Sitara would like to adopt a creek with her sister, who’s in middle school, to do their part in keeping local creeks clean and healthy. She’s also hoping her sister will become a commissioner in a few years.

The water district understands the importance of passing on to our youth a well-preserved and healthy environment. Future generations will be faced with the increasing challenges of climate change and ongoing drought cycles in our dry state. Our responsibility is not only to leave them a better planet, but to empower them as stewards of our precious resources for generations to come.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information on the next application period towards the end of the year.

To learn more about the Youth Stewardship Commission visit our website: http://valleywater.org/Programs/YouthCommission.aspx

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