An Overview of Water

I am a fifth and sixth grade science teacher at the Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut. It is in a small New England urban community, which sits right near the Long Island Sound with many rivers and tributaries. Upon personal observation, many residents take up fishing as a recreation and from my own individual surveillance I know that many of these game fishermen eat the proceeds of their sport.


I believe it is my duty to educate my students in acquiring enough knowledge to inform the public of the importance in keeping our water safe and clean in order to preserve the wildlife that thrive in our waterways. My curriculum unit is bent on enabling my students to be the advocates of our local waters in an effort to preserve this precious commodity for future generations.


My rationale in developing this curriculum unit is to inform students how vitally important it is for them to take measures to ensure that the waters are safe for their lifetime and beyond. They should realize that water is not constantly being created, simply being recycled over and over again. Since there is only 1% of fresh water that the entire world population is relying on, we must take small steps to make a contribution in conserving and preserving this precious commodity.


The objectives for this curriculum unit will begin with students being made aware of the water cycle and how such a small percent of water is actually useable fresh water for consumption. They will become aware of how nature purifies water through filtration, sedimentation, and distillation. They will be introduced to certain water pollutants that reduce the amount of useable water. Students will engage in researching where pesticides used in agriculture eventually end up, which industries use rivers for dumping toxins or add heat by cooling their machines, and discover which organisms are affected by these various pollutants.


Students will become involved with the term “real pollution incident” by investigating sewer overflow (where does the excess sewage go?), storm water runoff (what happens when we have an abundance of rain?), and failing septic systems in individual homes and/or businesses. They will visit certain sites to learn how to test the health of a local body of water by determining the absence or presence of macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates are animals without backbones and are large enough to be seen without high-powered microscopes. These familiar insects, such as the dragonfly and mosquito, spend the early part of their lives as aquatic macroinvertibrates.


Students will develop a clear understanding of the harmful effects of water pollution on marine and freshwater organisms and that whatever pollutants pollute the waters will eventually pollute the land. They will study the health risks associated with eating fish or other organisms form the waters, both fresh and salt waters. They will learn of the harmful effects of mercury in the human body as well learn about the positive attributes of eating foods from the waters.


Students will be introduced to the notion that whatever litter is carelessly thrown in the streets eventually makes its way into our waterways. A pollutant such as oil leaking from automobiles, trucks, buses, etc., or those reckless individuals that mindlessly change the oil in their cars and dump this oil into the sewers or unto the streets, will eventually make its way into our waters. Students will see, first hand, how the city of New Haven deals with this problem of keeping our waters clean by visiting a water treatment plant to see the ill-effects of littering and polluting our community by land, sea, and air.


Students will keep a log of their family’s daily use of water, if they recycle in their homes, what cleaning products their household uses and to check to make sure these cleaning products are environmentally safe.


Students will form teams whereby one team will research air pollution and how this affects our waters. Another team will research how the manufacturing and the production of goods affect the water pollution problem. Another team will investigate how consumer products affect the water pollution problem.


After all the research has been completed, collected and consolidated, students will strategize on how these problems that face, not only our community but the community as a whole, can be solved. They will embark on creating a brochure on the serious implications of water pollution to be distributed throughout the community. The students will make the public aware of the seriousness of this issue and to try to change the habits and the behaviors of individuals in our community. Brochures will be created, but also posters will be displayed, signs will be painted on the sewers to prevent people from using the sewer inlets as trash receptacles, this is pending collaboration with the Regional Water Authority of New Haven and the “Save the Sound” foundation.


Once this project is underway, students will collaborate with students from neighboring schools and schools in other communities in an effort to get them involved in preserving the waterways in their communities. Students will recognize what happens in our waters here will have a direct impact on those communities downstream from us and all rivers and tributaries in this area that lead to the Long Island Sound.


After completing this unit, students will be able to successfully produce public awareness information, be able to communicate to the public to change behaviors and habits and to teach other students in other neighboring communities of what they did and how these nearby communities can join in their efforts to bring about changes in attitudes about our precious, and ever decreasing, commodity…WATER.


Water takes up seventy-five percent of the earth’s surface. However usable fresh water makes up a very small percentage, which makes fresh water to be a precious and valuable resource. The oceans make up ninety percent of the water and two percent of fresh water is trapped as ice either in glaciers, snowy mountain ranges or ice caps. That leaves a whopping one percent of usable fresh water. This water is stored in soil (aquifers) or bedrock fractures beneath the ground (ground water) or in lakes, rivers, and streams on the earth’s surface (surface water). Water consists of 50-70 percent of weight in plants and animals, including humans. Therefore all living things need water in order to survive.


Just about the same amount of water exists today that existed from the formation of the earth, but the present demand for water has grown faster than the population. Since the 1950’s that demand has tripled over the world, therefore all countries are faced with water management issues. The big question arises… “How can we satisfy the human need for water while maintaining the integrity of the ecological balance of the water’s natural system?” Thus, water management will continue to face the human race as we go further into the 21st century. These issues are ever-present and can lead to social, cultural, and economic impacts.


Water is a very simple compound that consists of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule but it is essential to all life here on earth. It can exist in all three states of matter simultaneously, solid, liquid, or gas. Water, although simple, can cause serious alterations to the earth’s surface through floods, weather patterns resulting in storms, erosion, and weathering, to name a few. As a result of water existing in three states of matter, what is created is the water cycle. Water is constantly moving. The sun heats bodies of water and it evaporates and rises to the cooler atmosphere where the water vapor condenses, forming clouds. Once the droplets of condensed water get bigger, precipitation takes place.


Vegetation also plays a vital role in the water cycle several ways. When the water is absorbed into the ground and the roots of plants take up the water, through transpiration, water is released from the plants back into the atmosphere. Plants also help to purify water because some harmful pollutants that may exist in water are absorbed by trees and through transpiration, clean water is released back into the atmosphere. Plants also help to cut back on the erosion of soil and reduce runoff. Water that is absorbed into the ground gets filtered through the ground and some water, eventually, makes its way to underground streams or rivers known as groundwater. Wells are tapped into these underground streams for usage.


The largest consumer of fresh water is agriculture. This industry uses about 42 percent. The next largest consumer, at about 39 percent, is with the production of electricity. Urban and rural homes use about 11 percent and the remaining 8 percent is used in mining and manufacturing.


As far as indoor water use, every American uses about 150 gallons of water per day, which translates to about 39 billion gallons per day in the United States. Toilets use up 30 percent, which means about five to seven gallons per flush. Showers and baths use about one-third of household use. A dishwasher uses less water than washing by hand, ten gallons versus 16 gallons, respectively. A leaky faucet wastes 2,300 gallons of water per year.


Pollution enters our waters in one of two ways, point pollution or nonpoint pollution. Point pollution is when pollutants are dumped into water directly through pipes, tunnels, wells, or ditches. This pollution is easy to track and is generally controlled by a municipal wastewater treatment facility. Nonpoint pollution, however, is not easy to find its source and comes from such things as fertilizers and pesticides from agriculture, construction sites, which can cause erosion of soil and heavy deposits of sediments.


Landfills and dumpsites can lead to contamination of surface and groundwater, and the lack of recycling of oil, grease paper, and plastics add to this dilemma. Parking lots add to this problem because of automobiles that drip oil, brake and transmission fluid and coupled with the fact that most parking lots are made of asphalt which makes the surface impenetrable to liquids and during a heavy rain these fluids get washed in with the storm water runoff. Hazardous wastes that are produced as a by-product of manufacturing if not properly stored or disposed of can also make its way into our water supply.


The United States has made great strides in improving water quality since the Clean Water Act has been put in place over thirty years ago. Although it is commendable that great efforts have been made to improve the quality of our water, it must be noted that over 40% of our nation’s monitored waters still do not meet the goals of the Clean Water Act for recreational use and the safety of aquatic life. Every citizen can have a part in insuring that we are made aware of what we can do to keep our waters clean by simply changing some of our actions.


Water purification occurs in nature by many different ways through grasslands, forests, and wetlands, which act like sponges. These ecosystems also help in removing fine sediments and certain pollutants such as radionuclides ( radioactive elements) and metals are absorbed in these silt particles. Then there are microbes, whose job it is to eat pollutants such as periphyton, which are slime-like microbes that clean biologically and is known as bacteria or fungi and/or algae. There are macroorganisms that aid in filtration such as the caddisflies, which actually construct a net to catch pollutants. Black flies are in the business of net-building too. Natural woody debris dams act like filters, also, thus beavers also aid in the filtering process by their construction of dams and it has been reported that watersheds that are supported by beaver dams retain up to 1,000 times more oxygen than watersheds without beavers.


The land also provides a way to help purify water. Water absorbed into the soil makes its way into plants, which return water back to the atmosphere through respiration. Plants also help to hold the soil in place and keep good topsoil from washing away. Water travels through the soil and is filtered along the way as it makes its way to underground aquifers.


It must be understood that since nature has its built-in mechanism to purify water, protection of these built-in systems must be made. It is estimated that once one of these ecosystems are lost, the cost for a man-made filtration plant costs from $6 to $8 billion dollars. There have been efforts made to construct wetlands as an alternative to a wastewater treatment plant. Efforts must be made to educated ourselves in the value of keeping our water as clean as possible because the more polluted the water, the more costly it is for us to clean it. Therefore, the natural ecosystems that help to purify our waters must be preserved.


It is with all of this in mind that the lessons should reflect a thorough investigation of the uses of water and to educate students to become wise consumers of water and to be mindful to preserve this precious commodity on this, our BLUE PLANET called Earth!