What’s in a drop – a youth commissioner’s view

Last month the Santa Clara Valley Water District graduated its sixth class of Youth Stewardship Commissioners, a group of 28 high school students motivated about caring for the environment and seeking to develop leadership skills. During the six-month program, students have the opportunity to visit water district facilities, shadow district professionals on the job, attend evening commission meetings with district guest speakers and complete tasks related to a specific topic each month.


Gavin Bowen will be a senior year this fall at Homestead High School in Sunnyvale. He is a member of the Los Gatos Rowing Club and Rolling Hills 4-H youth organization, (associated with the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources), and develops leadership and life skills in youth through project-based learning. Gavin enjoys visiting national parks and is very interested in environmental science, water resources and stewardship, and reservoir operations. Below is is a personal account of the commission’s highlights and benefits. 

This year, I applied to become a Santa Clara Valley Water District Youth Stewardship Commissioner. The Youth Stewardship Commissioners are a group of students that attend monthly meetings to learn about water usage and conservation, and how water is distributed throughout the state of California and more specifically to Santa Clara County. At these meetings, employees from the water district taught us about the jobs they perform and how their actions contribute to meeting our community’s water needs. They also taught us about the struggles we face around our usage of water, and how we can overcome these problems.

At each YSC meeting, we learned more about our water system and the environment-related problems humanity faces. Currently, some of the most important problems we have are related to water, including drought and water shortages, ocean acidification and overfishing and pollution. We learned more about these problems through hands-on activities, and discussed how these problems affect both our everyday lives and the world. In order to solve these problems, we need a new generation of people to work in water and environment related jobs. During the meetings, we learned about many of the jobs within the water district, and even had guest speakers tell us about their jobs. Although we learned about many other subjects related to water, these environmental issues and job functions stood out to me because of how important they are to current water district efforts.

During my time in this program, I toured the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San José. The purification center purifies water using techniques such as reverse osmosis, ultraviolet radiation, and microfiltration. The purification center is able to purify 8 million gallons a day, and is used by places such as Levi’s Stadium to water their fields. Eventually, the facility would like to be able to supply fresh drinking water to California, and is currently researching an ‘advanced oxidation process’ to do this.  The tours are open to the public, and I’d recommend attending this free tour if you’re interested in finding out where our water comes from or more about our water system in general. It was an enjoyable experience, and I definitely learned more about how water is purified, where that water is distributed, and how it is used.

Another opportunity that I had during my time as a Youth Stewardship Commissioner was a job shadow day. I was able to shadow a Senior Water Resources Technician, and visit many of the locations he and his coworkers operate on a daily basis. I learned about the machinery he uses to monitor the flow and quality of water and how the water system is connected through different parts of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. We also went to Lexington Reservoir, and my guide taught me how Lenihan Dam is operated. This was really cool, because I row at Lexington Reservoir, but before this I didn’t know anything about the dam. The job shadow day was one of my favorite opportunities with the Youth Stewardship Commission program, and it inspired me to think more about what I want to do for my career.

Participating in this program has been a great learning and leadership experience, and I recommend applying next year if you’re a high school student interested in learning more about water and the environment. The staff and guest speakers for this program were all experts in this field, and happy to answer all of our questions. The program runs each year from January through June, and I highly recommend checking it out!

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

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

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