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A white, oval shape logo, with the title WaterShare centered in green letters.  There is a blue drop of water and the title.

Elementary School Lesson Plan

by Leslie Comnes, M.A.

Classroom Water Audit

Students collect and measure water in the classroom sink that normally would go down the drain, to learn about ways they could reduce the amount of water they use while still meeting their needs.

Subjects:

Math, Science, Social Science

Materials:
  • Large bucket or dishpan
  • 75 plastic party cups, 8 ounces or larger
  • several pairs of rubber gloves
  • large piece of butcher paper
  • blue construction paper
  • glue sticks
Background Information:

Earth often is called the "water planet" because oceans or ice fields cover nearly three quarters of its surface. This abundance might make water seem an unlimited resource. Yet, less than one-hundredth of one percent of the earth's water, less than one cup-full out of every ten thousand cups, falls upon the land each year as fresh water. Less than two-thirds of one percent of Earth's water resides underground, much of it too deep or too brackish to be useful and little of it replenished as fast as it is pumped to the surface. Water good enough to drink, to farm with, to use in factories, or to share with lake and river life, is a rare and precious substance on this most watery of planets in our solar system.

To urban dwellers, water seems particularly abundant because it is nearly effortless to come by: just turn on the faucet and out it pours. The convenience of pressurized plumbing makes it easy to overuse water without thinking about the consequences. Most of our water consumption results from cultural and economic habit, a part of the way we live. Physically, the active adult human body requires only about a gallon of drinking water per day to maintain health in a moderate climate. Culturally, we average about 125-150 gallons per day domestically in the United States, per person, most of this for washing, flushing, and watering. While drinking less water than we need for our health is a bad idea, using more water than we need for our residential purposes is a bad habit. We could get the same jobs done using half as much. Improving the efficiency of our water use will provide water to share with all the diverse demands on this limited resource.

In the western states where the climate is dry, the necessity of water for human activities has been inscribed upon the land with public works. Here, people rely on extensive (and expensive) systems of dams and diversions to deliver fresh water from where and when it occurs naturally, to where and when it is used by people. In California, for example, most of the fresh water collects in the Sierra Nevada mountains as winter snow pack; a network of reservoirs, aqueducts, and pipelines regulates and transports the Sierra runoff hundreds of miles to metropolitan areas demanding far more water year-around than local sources can supply. For Los Angeles, the reach for water extends across the Mojave Desert, up the Colorado River, to the Rocky Mountains a thousand miles and four states away.

In the West, rapid population increases throughout a relatively recent history of urbanization have continually strained these distant water supplies, leading to successive waves of waterworks construction. Finally, however, we are approaching the limits of availability. During extended periods of below-average rainfall when many of the region's reservoirs and underground aquifers seem in danger of being drained dry, water conservation becomes a common, even required, practice. With a growing population has come a growing realization that usable water is in finite supply, and that nature itself needs water for ecological health. We have only so much, and we have to share it.

By following a few straightforward water conservation steps, a typical family of four can save 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of water a year. Outdoor purposes account for two thirds of the water consumed by suburban households during summer's heat. Simple measures can save thousands of gallons a month: watering in the morning to reduce evaporation, watering lawns no more than what the climate requires, maintaining turf sprinkling systems, leveling turf areas, landscaping with low-water plants, sweeping instead of hosing driveways, and turning off the hose between rinses when washing the car.

Conserved water is the most cost effective, environmentally benign source of "new" water. WaterShare means there will be water to share with all, when we all practice water management care.

Sources:

California Water Issues. Sacramento, CA : Water Education Foundation, 1997. Fact Sheet: 21 Water Conservation Measures for Everybody.

Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water.

Layperson's Guide to Water Conservation. Sacramento, CA: Water Education Foundation, 1997.

Water, by Luna Leopold, Life Science Library, 1966

Preparation:

Make a large graph out of chart paper that is labeled on the horizontal axis, Days 1 through 5, and on the vertical axis "Cups of Captured Water." Out of blue construction paper, cut small rectangles to represent cups of water. Students will stack the symbolic "cups" on the graph in vertical bars for each day.

 

 

Cups
of
Captured
Water

 

 

         
  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

Questions for discussion:

Responses to seek:

What are some of the ways we use water in our homes? In our classroom? How could we find out?

Awareness of personal water use behavior

Where does faucet water come from?

Concept of supply

Where drain water go?

Concept of consequences

What does it mean to waste water?

Waste as using more water than needed, such as letting the tap run too long;

Waste as using water for the wrong purpose, such as hosing the driveway.

Who benefits from sharing water?

Awareness of urban, agriculture, and natural needs

At the WaterShare web site, how did we learn to use water carefully?

Reinforcement through review

Procedure:
  1. Place the bucket or pan in the sink. Show students how the bucket will catch water whenever they use the sink for getting a drink, washing their hands, etc. Explain that when the bucket is full, and at the end of the day, the class will see how much water was captured by pouring or scooping the bucket water into plastic drinking cups, and then counting and graphing the results.
  2. Whenever the bucket is full, and at the end of the day, have a few students wear rubber gloves and help you transfer the water to the cups.
  3. Line up the cups on a table so that everyone in the class can see and count them. Using glue and one construction paper rectangle for each cup of water, help students graph the water captured that day.
  4. Continue to capture water, measuring and graphing the amounts each day for five days. Two days into the investigation, ask students to think of ways that the class can reduce the amount of water it uses while still meeting its needs. Ask them for ideas about how the class could safely reuse some of the water that otherwise would flow down the drain. (Students might suggest watering indoor and outdoor plants.) Plan to try a few of the ideas for reducing and reusing the captured water in the remaining days.

    Safety Note: Be sure students understand that they should not drink the water or give it to any classroom pets, or use it in any other unsanitary way.
  1. At the end of the five days, lead a discussion with students about what they learned:
    • Looking at our graph, how much water did we collect on the first day of our experiment? How much did we capture on the last day? What is the difference between the two?
    • How much of the captured water did we reuse for other purposes? Did this save any clean water that otherwise would have been used for those purposes?
    • How did the amount of water we used change over the course of the week? What do you think are the reasons for this change?
    • What are some choices we had to make about using water?
    • What are some ways that we sometimes waste water in our classroom?
    • How can you use less water at home while still meeting your needs?

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