Saturday, April 17, 2010

Earth Day: Smart(er) Water

April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a day conceived to raise awareness of the Earth’s environment and our ecological health. Much progress has been made during this time: creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act are just a few examples of how the public and government have worked together to institute environmental change. Much work, however, still needs to be done. According to the World Health Organization, over 80% of disease in the developing world is due to water-related illnesses. Currently, about 20% of the world’s population (roughly 1.1 billion people) lack access to safe drinking water. To the overwhelming majority of Americans and others in developed nations, access to clean water is as simple as turning on the tap or reaching for bottled water. It’s important that students know how drinking water is produced, and just how vital clean water is to all living things.

In honor of Earth Day, this week’s picks focus on drinking water, and the energy needed to produce it. All of this week’s resources come from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), which was chartered by Congress in 1990 to advance environmental knowledge and action. For its 2010 Environmental Education Week program, NEEF has created lesson plans for middle and high school students on the Water-Energy connection. In addition to lesson plans, NEEF also offers a plethora of articles, reports, videos, statistics, and other resources related to the environment.

Understanding the Energy Demand of Bottled Water
Subjects: English/Language Arts, Ecology
Grade: 5-8
Bottled water is so convenient and, well, so easy. Yet the production of bottled water actually uses vast amounts of energy compared to the production of tap water. In this cross-curricular lesson, students review the actions required to produce bottled water, and the relative amounts of energy used in each stage. What’s particularly effective about this lesson is that it includes direct, measurable action that kids can take to reduce their own water-related energy footprints. As they debate the pros and cons of bottled water vs tap water, they can reach their own decisions about the source from which they obtain their drinking water.

Where Does Your Drinking Water Come From?
Subjects: English/Language Arts, Ecology
Grade: 5-8
Most students have only a vague notion of how drinking water is processed. In this lesson, students learn about ground and surface water sources for drinking water, and the role of water treatment plants in making potable water available. Students also learn about the energy requirements needed to treat and transport tap water, as well as what exactly happens when water is treated at a facility.

Hidden Relationships: Energy Sources and Water Usage
Subjects: Math, Ecology
Grade: 9-12
Students are probably unaware that water is nearly always used in the generation of electricity. For example, water is used in the process of extracting fuels such as coal, natural gas, and uranium. In this lesson, students learn that every source of human-based energy requires water during the extraction, production, processing, transportation, and consumption of energy. They participate in an activity that compares energy usage rates, and analyze the amounts of water used by various energy sources.

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