Water is a resource without which nothing can live. Water has an endless number of uses, and some of these uses are not compatible, but we seem to assume that clean water will always be available to us. In fact, less than one percent of the water of the world is available as fresh, drinkable water. Problems with pollution and major droughts around the country have started to change our thinking about the availability of water, but we still have a long way to go as a society before we truly appreciate the value of water.
When America was being settled, and water had to be carried to the house by hand, the average pioneering family would use about a bucket (five to 1 0 gallons) of water in a day. These days, experts estimate that the average person uses a minimum of 100 gallons of water a day and the figure may be more along the lines of two or three hundred gallons of water per person per day. Some of the differences have to do with our many changes in lifestyle since those earlier days. Pioneering families had enough water for cooking and drinking, and chores such as washing clothes and scrubbing floors required the extra effort of hauling more water, so they weren’t done very often. Innovations such as indoor plumbing and washing machines, while making life easier, greatly increased society’s demand for water.
The water used within our homes is only a small part of the water we use each day. Most industrial processes require the use of water to make or clean the products we consume. Then there are the swimming pools, skating rinks, gymnasiums, water fountains in public parks, car washes, the concrete in foundations of our buildings, the heating and cooling systems and refrigeration units, and fire fighting equipment, that all use millions of gallons of water each day. Think of what would change in your community if the water supply was suddenly disrupted for some reason.
Water supplies for our communities come from two places: From water diverted from rivers and stored in reservoirs, or pumped from the ground by huge municipal wells. Modern technology has allowed us to store and transport massive amounts of water over great distances and to remove various impurities before the water is delivered to the consumer.
In recent years, there have been major droughts in many sections of our country and throughout the world that have reduced the water available in these areas. In other sections of the world, such as Africa, drought has devastated entire countries where the water supply had virtually disappeared. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of drought in Africa and many more were only saved by international famine relief efforts. Other problems may make such situations more difficult (civil war or government corruption) but the lack of water was responsible for much of the devastation.
Similar droughts have affected sections of our country over the years (think of the Kansas/Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the mass migration of farmers to California in the 1930’s), but we do not have similar problems now because of our technology. Most of the water used in southern California, for example, is piped in from northern California. Water used in Manhattan is piped to the city from as far upstate as Poughkeepsie. Water for New Haven comes from reservoirs in Madison.
Many different uses of water already touched on (industry, home consumption, municipal uses) have not included public recreation, fisheries resources, and waste disposal, uses that are of growing importance in this country, and are also in direct conflict with each other. Waters that receive the effluent from sewage treatment plants and industrial manufacturing are not esthetically pleasing and are generally ecologically degraded to some degree. Over one billion gallons of sewage effluent is released directly into the Long Island Sound and the rivers near the Sound every day, and the number will only get larger. At the same time, it is estimated that the value of Long Island Sound to the economy of its surrounding states is on the order of billions of dollars every year generated from the fisheries, the recreational industry and support services. Decisions need to be made about how to balance all the demands on the Sound.
Water Use Decisions
*five or ten gallon bucket with water
*several one gallon containers like milk jugs
*dipper or ladle
*plastic sheeting or waterproof floor area
Gather the group around the material and start with a story along these lines. Feel free to embroider or expand any way you want. You may want to involve the children in the story by having different kids act out characters in the story and do the scooping of the water for you. This might also speed up the activity.
“Imagine yourself as a pioneer on the wild frontier around 1850. You and your family (mother, father and two or three children) live in a log cabin built on a hill at the edge of a field your father cleared. At the bottom of the hill is a stream that provides all the water used by you family and all your animals. The animals are walked down to the stream twice a day to get their water, but you have to carry the buckets of water up the hill for your family to use. (Have some of the children pick up the bucket of water and carry it a short distance.) Every morning after you bring the water up the hill, your mother uses some to make corn meal and hot tea for breakfast (scoop about a half gallon out of the water and put it in the dishpan). After breakfast, your father fills his jug so he and your brothers can take water to the field with them (fill one of the one gallon jugs). Mother fills the kettle again to wash the dishes (scoop out another gallon of water). Today is baking day so some of the water gets used as Mother makes the bread dough and stews up some fruit to make a pie (add a few more scoops to the dishpan). After lunch you help weed the garden and need another drink (more water in the dishpan). For supper, Mother makes stew (more water) and then washes the dishes from the day (fill another gallon jug). Before bed, you pour water into the wash basin and wash your hands and face, and leave the water for your brothers and sisters (whatever water is left). Tomorrow is washing day and that means you’ll have to bring two extra bucket of water up the hill! Just thinking about it makes your arms ache.
Be fairly liberal when pouring out the water, and if you run out in the middle of the day, adjust the story to have the child carry another bucket up the hill (groaning all the way).
After you get through the story, start a discussion about how much water gets used in a modern household in the course of a day. Make sure showers, washing machines, lawn sprinklers, swimming pools/hot tubs, and all the other water amenities of modern society are included. Make a list on a flip chart or blackboard of all the ways water is used in a modern home.
Re-designing Long Island Sound
*charts of Connecticut and Long Island Sound (with rivers) on legal size paper
*sheets of water use and pollution symbols (included at the end of this unit)
*tape or glue
You can either do this exercise as a group or in small teams. It will be more work for you but be less time consuming during the activity if you have already cut up the symbols. Have the group place the water recreation symbols (boating, fishing, picnicking) where they think these activities might occur. Then, for every four recreation symbols on the picture, they must also put on one gas pump, one garbage can and one car. For every six recreation symbols, they must add one farm and one factory. Make sure the children understand what the different pollution symbols will do to the water. It’s best not to attach any of the symbols immediately, as the groups may want to relocate some after some thought. You can make the activity more true to life by announcing a population boom of people who want to use the water and giving them another 10-12 symbols to place when they think they have completed their task.
Ask what has been learned by trying to fit all the symbols together on the picture
. (There’s too many people; pollution and recreation don’t mix; people who pollute are ruining their own recreational places.)
Water Use Scavenger Hunt
*student worksheet (sample included at the end of this unit)
*master list of water uses at school or camp
*pens or pencils
For this activity, you may also need the cooperation of other people, or you can place some materials yourself first thing in the morning. You will need to do some legwork beforehand to count the listed water uses for yourself.
Either have everyone work individually or in groups of two or three, no larger. Give each group a copy of the list and give them fifteen minutes (more or less depending on how widespread the area is) to get the answers and return to the meeting place. The group with the most right answers should get some sort of recognition.