Water: An Amazing and Precious Resource

Apr. 15, 2011 | 1 Comment | Science | Social Studies | 9-12 | Natural Resources and Wildlife

Lesson Steps

Warm-up: Personal Water Audit – Pre-Assignment
     1. To be done as homework the night before the lesson, send students home with Reproducible #1 – Personal Water Audit. This will give students insight into their own daily water usage, and will be an indication of how much water is used on a daily basis.

Activity One: Daily Water Usage - Discussion
     1. Begin by listing a range of student water usage totals (as calculated in their Personal Water Audit pre-assignment) on the chalkboard or whiteboard. Guide students in determining the class average of daily water usage (personal domestic use and total daily water use).

     2. Lead a discussion of the Personal Water Audit results, water use, and availability. Use the following questions and answers as a guide:
               a) Were you surprised by your daily personal water usage? Did you imagine that you used more or less water each day? How does your personal total differ from the class average?
               b) How much of your total water was actually used and how much was wasted down the drain?
               c) How much more water do you use than what actually comes from the faucet? How do you think this water is used? (Remind students that a large majority of water used in the U.S. is in agriculture and industry. For example, it takes thousands of gallons of water to raise a cow to make a pound of beef or a carton of milk, and nearly all of their food and drink required water to process. In addition, almost every product they use required water to make, transport, etc.)
               d) What factors affect the totals calculated today?
               e) How would your audit look if you did it on a weekday vs. a weekend? (Think about washing a car, doing laundry, running the dishwasher, etc.)
                f) What about summer vs. winter? (Think about playing with a sprinkler or filling a pool, watering a garden or yard, etc.)
               g) How do you think your water usage compares to other people in the U.S.? (Ex: Southwest is very dry, Northwest is very wet, urban vs. rural, poverty levels, etc.)
               h) How do you think your water usage compares to people in other countries? (Consider climate, cost, availability, access, etc.)
               i) Conditions such as drought, pollution, rising population, and unequal distribution of natural resources threaten our water supply, even in the U.S. What might happen if we were faced with extreme water shortages? (Cost would go up, our usage would have to go down, access would be less reliable, conservation practices would become more common, etc.)

Activity Two: Water Is Amazing! - Game
     1. Divide the class into two or more teams.

     2. Ask the following True/False Questions of the class.
         Questions and Answers:
              1) Water dissolves more substances then any other liquid. True
              2) A water molecule consists of 2 atoms of oxygen and 1 atom of hydrogen. False
              3) Water has high surface tension, and is one of the more “sticky” liquids. True
              4) Water is the only substance found naturally on Earth in all three states (solid, liquid, and gas). True
              5) Human blood is composed of 75% water. False
              6) Water has a low specific heat index, and the temperature rises quickly when heat is absorbed. False
              7) Like most liquids, water contracts (gets smaller) when it freezes. False
(See Reproducible #2 – Water Is Amazing!)

     3. Have each team make their guess, and keep track of correct answers. Each correct answer is worth one point. (Optional: have a prize or reward for the winning team(s) at the end.)

     4. Pass out copies of Reproducible #2 – Water Is Amazing! to each student (and/or project for the class) and discuss. Go over questions and answers. Remind students that water really is amazing and has many incredible, unique properties without which life on Earth would not exist.

     5. Have each team choose the most surprising, interesting, or favorite fact about water.

Activity Three: Water Distribution in the US – Article and Debate
     1. Now your class should understand how important water is, not only to their own daily lives (Personal Water Audit), but to all life on our planet (Water Is Amazing!).

     2. Individually (in class or as homework the night before) or together in class, have your students read Reproducible #3 – Energy versus Water: Solving Both Crises Together.

     3. Ask your class what they think of this article and discuss. Are there any new concepts they were surprised to learn about? Is your school located in or near any of the places mentioned in the article?

     4. Divide the class according to the following: about 1/3 of your students will be citizens of the imaginary northwestern U.S. town of Lakeville, and about 2/3 will be residents of the southwestern U.S., living downriver from Lakeville.

     5. Explain the following hypothetical scenario to the class:
               a. The residents of Lakeville are lucky enough to have access to great freshwater resources. Located on Lakeville Lake at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, the town usually receives snowmelt runoff year-round. Lakeville Lake feeds into the Freshwater River, a major source of water for all of the states to the south.
               b. However, due to rising global temperatures, the snowmelt has begun to decrease during summer months every year. As a result, Lakeville is considering building a dam on the Freshwater River to control their water access year-round.
               c. The residents of the Southwest have already been experiencing water issues. Dependent on the resources of the Freshwater River, Southwesterners have been rationing water during summer months for years as the river has dried to a trickle during July and August.
               d. Now that Lakeville is considering building their dam, the Southwesterners are in an uproar. This will cut off their already dwindling summer water supply, and restrict their access to water all year round.

     6. Thinking of the concerns presented in the article, Reproducible #3 – Energy versus Water: Solving Both Crises Together, have the Lakvillians and Southwesterners debate these issues, representing their respective points of view. They should consider the following:
               a. Who has control over water resources? Should water regulation be managed by local, state, or federal government?
               b. If Lakeville has control over the water in Freshwater River, should they consider selling the resources to other cities and states?
               c. If so, how will the Southwestern citizens pay for this extra expense? Will they need to implement new taxes? Or should it be up to individuals to pay the increased costs? What about those who cannot afford to pay for water?
               d. Is it more important to have water in order to produce energy, or to have energy in order to clean and transport water?
               e. What regulations would the Southwestern states need to pass to conserve their water supply and ration its use? Consider the water uses in the Personal Water Audit, in addition to agricultural, economic, domestic, industrial and transportation impacts.
                f. If the residents of Southwestern states are having so many water issues that will only continue to increase, should they move to a new location with better access to water resources? Where would they go? Is this feasible?
               g. How will changes to the flow of Freshwater River impact the plants and animals in the watershed? Should regulations be considered to protect these species?
               h. What are the moral and ethical concerns of resource management?

     7. Each student in the class should be active in the debate. Encourage participation by having every student present one problem and one possible solution to these issues. Optional: Have students write down their ideas using Reproducible #4 – Lakeville vs. the Southwest. These can be collected and graded.

Wrap Up: Water as a Resource – Discussion
     1. Thinking back to their Personal Water Audit and discussion in Activity One, have your students think about how and when they use water in their daily lives. Remind students of the Water Is Amazing! game and the unique properties that make water essential to life. Think about how many organisms and lifecycles around them depend on water, and how catastrophic it would be if clean, accessible freshwater were no longer available to us and other living things.

     2. Think about other ways water’s properties are important (review Reproducible #2 – Water Is Amazing!). For example, think about how easily water absorbs and dissolves substances. This is one reason why water pollution is such an issue. Think also about water’s specific heat index and its relationship to global climate regulation.

     3. Thinking of the Energy versus Water article and the class debate over water distribution in the U.S., what were some or the major problems presented? What were some of the solutions discussed?

     4. Transition into a discussion of what students could do to reduce their daily water usage. Remind students about the class average of daily water usage, as calculated from the Personal Water Audit, and brainstorm ideas of how this could be reduced. (For example, do not let water run when brushing teeth or washing dishes, take shorter showers, do full loads of laundry or dishes, use rainwater to water lawns, etc.) You may wish to write this ideas on the board, or have students make their own lists.

     5. Empower students to share these ideas with friends and family. Remind them of the lessons learned and the importance of water around the world.

     1. Further Research – Have students research one of the issues presented in the Energy versus Water article (i.e. water reservoirs and nuclear power in the southeastern U.S., hydroelectric power at the Hoover Dam, drinking water in San Diego or Phoenix, agricultural issues in Kansas and Missouri, water rationing in California and Texas, etc.), or find a similar water issue in your home state. Students should write a report presenting the facts, and a persuasive argument. They could argue both sides, or choose one or the other. (Note: the full article excerpted in Reproducible #3 can be found at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-future-of-fuel.)

     2. Water Inequality on a Global Scale - Based on the debate in Activity Three, have students research the water availability in other countries and regions around the world. Visit www.globalwaternetwork.org for global water statistics, data and other information.