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This looks like a job for the Watershed Defenders!

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Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News continue to include weekly inserts aimed at children -- and frankly, these features' explanations of current events can sometimes be clearer and more logically structured than the stuff that appears in the pages intended for grownups. Unfortunately, the "Colorado Kids" section included in today's Post is an exception to this rule. "Snow Big Deal?," a colorful comic starring -- brass fanfare, please -- the Watershed Defenders, looks cool enough by newspaper standards. But the material, conceived by the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture, which produces Watershed Defenders comics for classroom use, is presented in such a bizarre way that I had to go to the fine print to figure out the point.

"All is quiet in the watershed" at the beginning of the comic, but Watershed Defender, a yellow-haired steroid buff wearing blue spandex and a mask that resembles ski goggles, senses that "The Contaminator is hiding somewhere." Luckily, his sidekick, Kylie, who gets a form-fitting costume of her own (in addition to hair that curls out at the sides like Marlo Thomas' in That Girl) discovers "people using deicer -- sodium chloride and other chemicals -- improperly!" She explains that "Those deicing agents dissolve as the ice melts. The runoff is carrying excess deicer and other contaminants* directly into the storm drains..." (The asterisk, by the way, identifies the likeliest of those contaminants as "litter, animal waste and oil.") Meanwhile, the Contaminator, a lumpy green quasi-lizard, decides to make the problem worse by dumping full bags of "Mega Melt" off a cliff -- but the Watershed Defender and Kylie toss him over the edge instead.

So are our friends at the Ag department saying that de-icer should be outlawed? If so, they should tell that to state and federal officials, who use tons of the stuff on roadways during the winter months. However, the Watershed Defenders aren't quite that militant, as I discovered by reading a full-page insert meant to explain the comic. The most practical part of the text reads:

"In the wintertime, we need to keep our sidewalks and roads safe. We clear the snow and use chemicals to help melt the ice. One thing you can do to help reduce pollution is to help shovel snow, which will reduce how much deicer is needed afterward. It's important to use only as much salt or chemical as we need since the melting snow, just like rain in the summer, makes its way to nearby rivers and lakes, carrying contaminants it picks up along the way.

Another big help is not to litter. If piles of snow in a parking lot get litter and other contaminants mixed in, that garbage is headed, sooner or later, toward a nearby river. Similarly, picking up after your pet is important all year -- even when it's cold outside."

Of course, the odds of boys and girls actually reading this part of the Colorado Kids presentation are a lot slimmer than the Contaminator. And since there are no practical applications contained in the illustrations (and, likewise, no images of scooping poop), most young readers will miss the message of moderation and upkeep entirely. They'll either think all deicer is bad, or they'll be terrified that their sacks of driveway salt are going to be stolen by someone who looks a lot like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but with worse muscle tone.

The best solution, then, would be for the Watershed Defenders to shovel the walks. Maybe if they did, they could afford coats. -- Michael Roberts

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