|In support of, but not affiliated with the UN campaign.|
A big thank you to our smart panelists and everyone who participated in Tuesday’s STEM chat on fresh water. March 22 is World Water Day and I’m sharing some of the themes and top resources from our chat. I learned a lot during and I hope even more of you learn about freshwater challenges and how to educate children about them from this recap.
Unlike previous chats this one was not sponsored, rather it was inspired by the book, Written in Water. Sponsors are important to make #STEMchat sustainable, so if you want to learn how it can add value to to your organization or brand, let’s talk.
There are loads of great links below; click often as you read!
We started out chatting about the role of fresh water in our lives, something very basic to explore with children. Of course, we need it to live, it is part of us and a life force, but it’s also necessary for farming, industry and transportation of goods and people. Water can be used for leisure- think lakes, swimming pools and sprinklers- but it also crucial for hygiene and sanitation. Water can be used to create energy and is an engine for economic growth. Water is a precious and undervalued resource. Though it may not feel that way if it’s flooding your house. Water is a force of nature.
Freshwater is like oil and someday may be traded, bought and sold as such. It already is in parts of the world.
We moved on to clean water and hygiene. In most areas of the US, we tend take availability of clean water for granted. Even in municipalities with summer water restrictions, we always expect it to come out of the tap. However, this is not true in some parts of the US like rural communities, border towns, and remote Alaskan villages. In fact, even in some parts of the US engineers have to search for fresh water resources. Engineers also play a crucial role in helping plan for future water needs.
Discussions about water must have a global scope; an estimated 1 billion people around the world lack adequate access to water and 2.5 billion lack access to adequate sanitation (i.e. toilets or other safe ways to dispose of human waste). Hence Matt Damon’s toilet strike.
|We play in and drink from Lake Michigan (after treatment!).|
Even here in the US many of us don’t understand what it takes to get the clean water we expect, which leaves the purification process feeling more like magic than science. A lack of understanding of the infrastructure that supports our clean water system can also lead to a lack of funding to maintain and improve it. If you ask, you may be able to arrange a tour of your local waste treatment plant. (Expect some security questions. Also, it may not smell as bad as you fear.) Your waste water treatment/sewer district may also have outreach programs for school and scouting groups.
If not purified, water can carry diseases. Waterborne diseases are a huge cause of sickness and death due to lack of sanitation and clean water sources. A disease like diarrhea is a nuisance here, but a deadly disease in developing areas. Around the globe, an estimated 4,000 children a day die from waterborne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery and cholera.
We then discussed how bringing clean water and sanitation to villages in developing nations affects the lives of children, especially girls. When women and children are charged with fetching water and that task takes much of their day, that means no time for schooling. Fresh water means more time for schooling for kids and frees women up to learn a trade and work to contribute to the family income. Social issues and taboos prevent girls from going to school once they reach puberty if there’s a lack of sanitation resources.
At home parents reported they share basic advice like turning water off during toothbrushing and limiting shower times. Low flow shower heads and toilets are good to have around the house, too. (I’m fond of our dual-flush low flow toilet.) Place a bucket in the shower when you first turn it on and save the cold water for your plants. Conserve water by choosing appropriate landscaping for your lawn, like native drought-resistant plants and setting sprinklers to run efficiently (i.e. don’t water the lawn at high noon and don’t water the sidewalk). Xeriscaping, is another good option.
“New sources of water will not meet the expected demand, so conservation is key.” @USACE_FortWorth
Incorporate rain barrels to capture rainwater; some cities subsidize rain barrel purchases. It was noted that because water is relatively inexpensive, many people aren’t conscious of how much they waste. Someone commented that we price our water locally, but if it was priced based on global value, we’d better understand our freshwater treasure.
When I was 8, my dad showed me the “bugs that ate the bad stuff” at a wastewater treatment plant. Now I design wastewater plants!” @MainlineMom
In addition to talking about the role of water as noted above, materials like this poster from the USGS showing the water cycle can be paired with a world map to discuss water-rich and water-poor areas. Teaching children the concept of watersheds and understanding that they live in one, even if they don’t live near water is important. Show kids where their water comes from in nature, if possible. That’s the water equivalent of knowing food comes from farms, not stores.
Teach kids not to throw trash or other objects down sewers (we used to love throwing rocks down there when I was a kid).
When working with children, it’s good to piggyback on other awareness programs like the UN’s World Water Day or Fix a Leak Week. Get your family involved with charities or projects that bring clean water and sanitation to villages or clean up/ protect local waterways. Spend time out in nature on or near those bodies of water. If you have a well, explain to your children how it works. By the way, the EPA funds an informative online class for that’s free for homeowners with wells.
Take a Water Field Trip
How about a watershed road trip? My family visited Lake Itasca in Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi; can you imagine following it all the way down to the Mississippi Delta? Okay, maybe you don’t have enough time to take trip down the middle of our country. Try the National Museum of the Mississippi in Dubuque, Iowa instead. In Orange County, California you can drive from mountain reservoirs to the bay.
Visit a hydroelectric dam, a water treatment facility as noted above, or even a picnic or hike near a local body of water. John Bunker Sands Wetland Center in Seagoville, Texas is another educational water site. Travel abroad to see remains of water transport systems in Pompeii and see how Israel makes its dessert bloom.
Other online water education resources:
Water Environment Federation
US EPA for Kids
This video series
Northwest Ohio Regional Sewer District (this, too)
Tomatoes and wastewater facilities
UN World Water Day Kids’ Site (kids can design their own Water Day logo featuring one of 20 languages)
Stroud Water Research Center
There is a bright future for water management careers. Not only will they be in demand, but such careers can be lucrative. The path to a career in water can be as meandering as any river. Among the areas of study that can lead to this type of STEM career include chemical, civil, and other types of engineering, biology, environmental science, chemistry, physics, microbiology, hydrology, political science, geology, geography, finance, communication, marketing, economics, land management, law and others–a good reminders that there are pathways to STEM careers for business and liberal arts majors. In addition, there are government and nonprofit jobs in water that rely more on passion that technical know-how.
Work for Water has loads of advice for high school and college students considering a career in the field, as does the Army Corps of Engineers. Some fear the industry has an image problem, but money makes a lot of things look more attractive, so does the potential to impact lives. Either way, there are many promising opportunities.
STEM developments in water management include the development of new types of filtration systems like those made of graphene.
|If graphene was made out of balloons, it might look something like this.|
As a Science Olympiad Mom, I couldn’t help but mention they have water events like Water Quality and Awesome Aquifers. My son competed in the aquifer event last year and it was quite an education, especially for a child who gets his tap water from Lake Michigan.
And this wasn’t in the chat, but these are books (for adults) mentioned in Written in Water that sounded intriguing: When the Rivers Run Dry and Confessions of an Eco Sinner by Fred Pearce and The Big Necessity: The unmentionable world of human waste and why it matters by Rose George (named best science book of 2008 by The Economist).
Thanks for reading. Be sure to add your favorite tips and resources in the comment section.
Sign up hear to receive a monthly #STEMchat reminder. Next chat: April 9, Robotics.