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Gray skies fail to dampen green enthusiasm
McParland School student Natasha Honore, left, tests the low-flow sensor sinks on display in the Modesto Plumbers/Pipefitters Local 442 green trailer. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Neither rain nor gloomy gray skies on Thursday dampened the enthusiasm of the nearly 2,000 Manteca Unified sixth graders who attended the annual Planet Party Day at the Manteca Unified School District office campus on West Louise Avenue.

Their bright smiling faces made up for the lack of sunshine as they learned about water and energy conservation, how sweat equity works in producing a sweet and nutritious smoothie by simply using pedal power, the seeming magic but totally practical application of a state-of-the-art urinal, ways to protect the earth’s natural resources for future generations, and scores of other lessons on how to become future stewards for a clean environment.

The middle-school students were a combination of laughter and curiosity particularly when they toured the UA Sustainable Technology Training Trailer with its display of commodes, urinals, a washing machine, and a heating and cooling system. Their self-conscious and teasing laughter was immediately replaced by awe as soon as they found out about the wonders of the waterless urinal, for example, which can save up to 40,000 gallons of water a year. They also learned that a gallon of water is used each time a urinal is flushed.

This is the first time the demo trailer is making its appearance at the Planet Party Day. The trailer is a mobile “demonstration of green energy” and came all the way from Ohio, explained David Martinez, one of the UA Sustainable Technology’s volunteer tour guides.

At the City of Manteca’s tent, the students received a first-hand and up-close demonstration on water consumption every time they take a shower. Using water meters that are similar to those installed in city residential homes, the students learned the big difference between having a high-flow and low-flow showerheads. A high-flow showerhead uses three gallons of water every minute, which is more than twice the low-flow alternative. That’s 30 gallons of water used for every 10-minute shower, explained George Montross of the city Public Works Department.

Amber Norby, who teamed up with Montross in the water-conservation demonstrations, said they will have the same display available at this weekend’s annual Manteca Street Faire where they will also have some free yard-watering give-aways.

In the South San Joaquin Irrigation District booth, Julie Jeleti, laboratory coordinator at the Nick C. DeGroot Water Treatment Plant, and Justin Ashworth explained to the students that the drinking water coming out of their faucet at home originates at the Woodward Reservoir about a half-mile away from the water treatment facility. A cooperative venture between SSJID and the cities of Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy makes potable drinking water available for these communities’ residents.

Planet Party came close to being cancelled due to rough weather

The wet weather that greeted area residents in the morning on Thursday worried Planet Party organizers.

“It really came close to being cancelled,” said district Nutrition Services Director Patty Page who is co-chairing the event every year with L.O.G.I.C. Sustainability Coordinator Victoria Brunn.

They waited until 8 o’clock, when the skies began to clear, before they made the firm decision to go ahead with the event, Page said. But two schools decided to cancel their appearance at the environmental field trip party. French Camp Elementary and Mossdale School in Lathrop were the only ones who did not send their sixth graders to the field trip. Page said they were the first two schools that were scheduled to arrive in the morning.

School buses transported the sixth graders to the event site, with the groups staggered throughout the day to avoid crowding.

“I think everybody is having a good time. There are lots of good experiences for the kids,” a smiling Page said as she scanned the throng of young learners gathered inside the covered tents where the presentations were held.

The interactive presentations “enhance what they (the sixth graders) are learning at school,” she added.

“This is an excellent learning experience for them,” agreed parent and student chaperone Jesus Garcia who came with the group from Woodward Elementary School in Manteca.

“The kids are always asking questions; they are very curious. You can just see the expressions on their faces,” said Garcia who has been volunteering for the field trip for the last four years.

In addition to SSJID, companies and organizations that contribute every year to the success of the annual Planet Party Day include PG & E, Shred-It, J.R. Simplot, Valley Clean Air Now, the cities of Manteca and Lathrop, Home Depot, Cal Waterfowl, the California Department of Fish and Game, California EPA, and iecRenewables.

There were more than 2,000 sixth graders in attendance along with 60 teachers, 120 adult volunteers, 70 vendors, and 69 high school volunteers.