Water & Watersheds

Teaching about the water cycle can be made more realistic and valuable for students by incorporating what they know about water-where it comes from, what happens to it after they use it, and what problems are associated with its use. Watersheds, the land area draining into a single body of water, can be considered a basic unit of the landscape that determines water availability, movement, and quality. When students study watersheds, they learn in a personal way about the importance of water, and how land use affects surface and groundwater.

Watersheds and People

Homework assignment or one class period

Students generate a list of local land use activities and consider how these activities may affect local water quality and quantity.



All of us living within a particular watershed have the ability to make changes in the environment which can intentionally or inadvertently affect aquatic ecosystems, even when activities are far from any waterbody. These changes include many common activities such as the construction of homes, roads and shopping centers, and growing crops, lawns, and livestock. Inputs of nutrients, sediments, and toxic substances from these sources can seriously impair streams, ponds, and groundwater resources. Human activities can also change the pattern of water flow in a drainage network, increase the amount of water that reaches a waterbody, and allow water to get there faster without the opportunity for removal of pollutants by slow infiltration into the soil.

Ask students to brainstorm a list of all the different land use activities in their community or town. This may be done as a homework project -- for example, students could record all the different land uses they observe on their way home from school. Table 1 gives one possible scheme of land uses. After students generate their list, ask them to think about the kinds of contamination that may result from these different land use activities. Record their suggestions on the board. A list of possible ideas appears below


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