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Water is a vital natural resource that all living things depend on to survive, but water quality is being affected by human activity. In this lesson, students explore how humans have impacted the quality of our water resources, and consider ways to avoid further pollution. Students first examine the causes of water pollution, then investigate the quality of their community's water supply. They conclude with an exploration of ways to make water safe for human consumption.
Two to three class periods
∗Provide water samples only if students will not be collecting their own samples.
For each group of two or three students:
The water quality observations activity (Part II) in this lesson can be done as a field trip or as an in-classroom activity. If you will be taking students on a field trip to collect their own samples, select three or four locations along the local watershed prior to the trip. Try to include locations of contrast. For example, you may want to take them to an area near heavily fertilized lawns and industry, as well as to more natural and less polluted areas upstream of these locations.
If students will be doing the activity as an in-classroom observation, collect water samples to bring to class. Select varied locations, as described above. Also, be sure to record information about each sample that students will not be able to observe in the classroom, such as:
1. Tell the students that they will be investigating the quality of the water in their community. To begin, they will discuss possible causes for pollution. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
2. Display the watershed map and ask students to think about what could cause the water to be polluted in their area. For example, students can look for industry and housing developments along the watershed. List students' ideas on the board for later discussion.
3. Show the Pollution Along the Rhine River QuickTime Video and ask students to read the background essay that accompanies the resource. Have students add to the list any new ideas about causes of water pollution. (Remind them to include pesticides on their list if they do not include it on their own.) Also, discuss the following questions:
4. Tell students that they are going to observe water from three or four different locations throughout the local watershed. Discuss what factors they should observe in order to accurately measure the quality of water in these locations. Have students construct a data table to collect these observations.
5. If students will be collecting their own samples, take them to the locations you have chosen along your local watershed. At each location, have students work in groups of two or three to collect water samples and record the following information:
If students are doing an in-classroom observation, provide them with the water samples and observational information that you collected. Have students work in groups of two or three to observe the water clarity and color of each sample. They should observe the water when it is still, then shake it up to see if any particles had settled. Students can also look for any organisms present in the water.
6. In the classroom, have students test the pH level of each water sample. Discuss with students what these measurements tell them about the quality of the water samples.
(Optional: Have students use water quality test kits to test their samples for lead, bacteria, pesticides, and other contaminants. Be sure to instruct students not to taste their samples, to wear goggles while handling them, and to wash their hands after concluding their tests.)
7. Once they have finished collecting data, have students compare the differences in water quality among the different samples. To help students interpret their data, provide a text on water quality factors, or go to the following Web site: Important Water Quality Factors. Discuss the following:
8. Using the watershed map from Surf Your Watershed, have students mark the areas that they observed and color code them for water quality. Ask students what relationship they see between human population and water quality in their community.
9. Water pollution affects the environment in several ways. It can be harmful to plants and animals that depend on the water as their habitat, and it can also limit the amount of water that humans have for drinking. Ask students to consider how water from lakes, streams, and other sources can be made safe for people to use. Show the Water Treatment Plant QuickTime Video and discuss the following:
10. Sand and gravel may seem unlikely choices for materials to use to clean water, yet water has been filtering through these substances underground for millions of years. The result is spring water, some of the cleanest water on Earth. Show students the Earth Water Filter QuickTime Video and discuss the following questions:
If time allows, give students the opportunity to continue their study of local water quality. Have students conduct research to find out where their drinking water comes from and what happens to it between the source and the faucet. If they discover any potential sources for pollution, they can write a letter to a city or town official to share their findings and offer suggestions for ways to reduce or remove the source of pollution.
The Digital Library for Earth System Education (www.dlese.org) offers access to additional resources on this topic.