Boise Places Worth Seeing

Boise WaterShed - The Best Liquid Education Around

If you're a desert town, what's your most precious resource? Nope, it's not retirees or sagebrush. The answer, of course, is water. Despite the fact that Boise is covered in green grass and calls itself the City of Trees, a trip outside the city limits will quickly remind anyone that we do live in a desert. If you want to know how the City of Boise makes it possible to grow all the green stuff you see around town, the Boise WaterShed is the place to go.

Located in the Boise River floodplain west of town and just down the ridge from the Boise Hewlett-Packard complex, the Boise WaterShed is an educational resource for teaching folks about protecting and conserving water. The main feature of the WaterShed is a green-certified building that contains a theater, a library, public art, and water-related exhibits.

If you're wondering why such an educational center is necessary, all you need to do is look at the Can Man that greets every visitor. This metallic figure is constructed entirely of cans recovered from the Boise River: soda cans, beer cans, energy drink cans, you name it. If we don't want our next Boise River float to turn into a tour of an unsightly and unsanitary trash dump, everyone needs to realize the value of clean water and the cumulative effects of tossing trash into the river or any of the city's storm drains, many of which drain into the river.

Kids will love the interactive exhibits in the building. Some are set up as game-show style quizzes about water quality and conservation, while others use lights and narration to demonstrate the effects of water usage in the area. The exhibit floor also contains some tools of the trade, such as a section of sewer pipe (hopefully never used), a 1950s-era Sludgemaster pump that Boise used until the 90s to move waste, and a small-scale example of a hand-operated well pump. The large watershed map on the wall is good to gawk at as well.

Although most of the information and exhibits in the building are geared toward kids, it's not too difficult for adults to find plenty of interesting things as well. A sure hit with everyone is an exhibit named the Flush Mapper. You can give it your Boise address and it will use fancy computer graphics and sound effects to show you where the contents of your toilet bowl go when they are flushed, including how far it travels and how long it takes it to get there. Who among us hasn't wondered where the poopie goes when you push the lever?

The grounds surrounding the WaterShed building also feature numerous exhibits dedicated to water conservation. They've got a fancy "permeable parking lot" that is designed to allow rainwater to pass through instead of running off. They've also got a waterwise garden that features plants that are native to desert climates like ours. If parking lots and desert plants don't really do anything for you or the kids, you can always find and admire the mud elephant or the pipe tree. You can find the elephant down a series of steps to the east of the building, provided a downpour hasn't come along and disintegrated the dirty pachyderm. The pipe tree is located in the picnic courtyard behind the WaterShed building.

The WaterShed building sits on the site of one of Boise's two wastewater treatment plants. The nice part about this is that tours are available. Lots of school groups take advantage of this offering, but you can get a group of curious friends together and reserve yourself a tour as well. If none of your friends care about wastewater treatment enough to go with you, the WaterShed also does open tours at 1pm on the Saturdays they are open. Hard hats are required (and provided), which makes me wonder what they've got falling out of the sky there.

Place worth visiting: Boise WaterShed
Where: 11818 W. Joplin Rd., Boise, ID 83714

View Larger Map
When: Year round
Mon-Fri, 9:30am to 4pm
Every third Saturday 10am to 2pm
Cost: Free
Website: City of Boise
Why we love it: If you look hard enough, you can find Mr. Hankey.