How To Know if Your Water Is Safe: A Lesson Plan by Diane Wilson

Issue:

Is your drinking water and the water you swim and fish in safe?

Issue Description:

In 1972 Congress passed the "first" Clean Water Act.  It stated that the US waterways would have 'zero emissions' by 1984.

That goal was not met. Since that time, the Clean Water Act has been compromised again and again to allow whatever is the "carrying load"of the water body or “how much can the body of water take without serious damage."

Every business, city, and/or industry must have a water permit from the state environmental agency before it can discharge pollutants (chemicals) into a water body. Check the documents at your state agency and see how many chemicals are actually allowed into local waterways and how many times this "permit' is violated by a business, the city, and/or an industry.

Decide for yourself if the water is safe. Question authority.

Essential Questions:

  • Why do agencies sometimes say something different about water quality from what the evidence might show?
  • Are agencies, authorities, elected officials, and discharging entities reliable at monitoring the safety of drinking water?
  • What is a student's responsibility when she feels the water is not safe? Does she have a responsibility or is she too young. Is the duty just for adults?

Expected Learnings:

Students will learn the following: 

  • Where the local bodies of water (rivers, lakes, streams, reservoirs, bays, marshes, etc.) near them are located. 
  • What organizations -- business/city/industry -- are discharging into the local bodies of water, if there is fracking or drilling nearby, and where do these discharges go. 
  • What and how many chemicals or other constituents being discharged in their area.
  • What Federal, State and County agencies consider safe for drinking water.
  • And, importantly, what the they believe the standards should be. 

Description of Activity:

1. Get a map of the area and pinpoint the local bodies of water.

  • Where do the citizens get their drinking water? Note this on the map.
  • Where do the citizens fish or swim? Note this.
  • Is there a fishing community? Where do they get their catch? Again, note this on the map.

2. Read the Freedom of Information Act law that allows people to request state and federal documents and information.  Understand your rights to information AND why you have them. (See resources, below.)

3. Organize a field trip to state/district environmental agency or write a Freedom of Information Act request to the environmental agency asking them for information on the following questions: 

  • What entities are discharging into the local waterways?
  • What does their permit allow? Is the permit up to date? Are there violations? What happens when there are violations to a water permit?

4.  Invite State and local environmental groups, i.e.. Water keepers, to visit your class. These state and local environmental agencies sometimes form alliances with local groups or citizens or students to teach them how to monitor for certain conditions, such as turbidity (cloudiness) or sediment load or salinity.

5. Look for and watch videos made by local and state environmental and regulatory organizations.

Resources to Support Activity:

In this particular lesson, the the recommended resources also overlap with the activity. That is because this activity emphasizes finding these resources.

  1. Invite State and local environmental groups, i.e.. Water keepers, to visit your class.
  2. Contact state environmental agencies that sometimes form alliances with local groups or citizens or students to teach them how to monitor for certain conditions: turbidity (cloudiness) or sediment load or salinity.
  3. Look for and watch videos made by environmental and state groups from your area.
  4. Read the Freedom of Information Act law that allows people to request state and federal documents and information. Understand your rights to information AND why you have them. 
  5. See the resource links below for more information.

To learn more, check these links: