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Reaching Teachers: A Critical Link in Raising Awareness of Water-Resource Issues

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Ann Tihansky introduces Thomas Scott
Above: Ann Tihansky (USGS) introduces Thomas Scott, Florida Assistant State Geologist, before he gives a quick overview of the geologic exposures that teachers will see on their canoe trip along the Peace River. [larger version]

teachers as they begin their canoe trip
Above: A sunny morning greets the flotilla of teachers as they begin their canoe trip, keeping their eyes out for interesting geology, wildlife, and fossils. [larger version]

Ann Tihansky shows eager science teachers how to identify fossils
Above: USGS hydrologist and science communicator Ann Tihansky shows eager science teachers how to identify fossils and bits of phosphate that make up a substantial portion of the gravel deposits along the Peace River in Florida. Phosphate mining is an important economic industry throughout the watershed. [larger version]

Andrew Stone and teachers explore a real parking-runoff-retention system
Above: After learning about runoff and retention basins, AGWT executive director Andrew Stone (left) and teachers explore a real parking-runoff-retention system and discover firsthand the many pathways a raindrop can travel in one of numerous hands-on activities during the 3-day workshop in Arcadia, Florida. [larger version]

Adding water drops to sand, clay, and sugar cubes illustrates important differences among porosity, permeability, and soluble and insoluble materials
Above: Adding water drops to sand, clay, and sugar cubes illustrates important differences among porosity, permeability, and soluble and insoluble materials—a water-resource-related lesson that teachers can use with their students. [larger version]
Since 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the American Ground Water Trust (AGWT) have partnered to advance public understanding of water-resource issues through a nationwide "Ground Water Institute for Teachers" program. The program's objective is to educate teachers on the environmental and economic importance of ground water so that they can feel more comfortable teaching ground-water issues to their classes. The AGWT began this program in 2000, introducing ground-water concepts, current research techniques, and resource-management issues to hundreds of teachers at institutes nationwide. Even before the formal partnership with the USGS, AGWT executive director Andrew Stone enlisted USGS experts to participate in many of the institutes. This year, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) sponsored four workshops throughout west-central Florida. USGS scientists Dale Griffin and Ann Tihansky shared their expertise on karst hydrology and threats to water quality in karst regions. Representatives from the Florida Geological Survey, Tom Scott, Harley Means, Tom Greenhalgh, and Clint Kromhout, each attended an institute and shared their expert knowledge of Florida's geologic origins, as well as providing educational resources specific to Florida geology.

The four institute workshops held this year focused on freshwater-resource issues critical to the west-central Florida area. In Crystal River, the program focused on karst hydrology and aquifer vulnerability. In Sarasota, the major topics were urban runoff and understanding of ground-water basics. In Arcadia, the teachers canoed a stretch of the Peace River, hunted for fossils, and gained a wider perspective on the geologic history of the river's watershed and the larger role the watershed plays as a water-supply source, not just to humans but also to the entire ecosystem downstream. Both the Tampa and Arcadia workshops focused on watershed management for sustainable water supplies. Both programs looked at how water-resource managers balance ground- and surface-water supplies with urbanization and land-use changes. "The quality instruction provided through lectures enhanced hands-on activities and sparked many ideas for interdisciplinary lessons," said Shelly Archambault, science teacher at Winter Haven High School. Language arts and science teacher Angela Hemstreet of Genesis Christian School added: "The pure education and awareness that were given increased my personal interest in water resources. It was a spark."

At the Peace River workshop in Arcadia, Stone spoke to a roomful of elementary-, middle-, and high-school science teachers and emphasized the importance of hands-on education for young minds. "You as experts can understand the kind of implications there are in taking students out of the classroom and having them participate in stimulating activities related to water resources and land use," said Stone. Combining science with creativity, teachers explored the surrounding area outside the classroom and traced the journey of a raindrop from the clouds to the land and back to the air as it traveled through soil, storm drains, aquifers, and the digestive tracts of animals and people in a journey of condensation, precipitation, and evaporation. Such activities raise awareness about the manmade obstacles between rainfall and the aquifer recharge of natural systems and highlight issues related to water-resource management.

Only 1 percent of the world's water is freshwater that is accessible to people and animals. Part of this freshwater comes from surface water that collects in streams, ponds, and rivers; the rest comes from rain and melted snow that seeps through the ground into aquifers. Construction, paving, and many other land-use practices disrupt natural ground-water recharge. Overuse of ground water by a growing population has depleted aquifers to the extent that the natural rate of water recharge from rain and snow has been unable to replace what has been removed. In coastal areas, ground-water withdrawals reduce freshwater flow in aquifers, which can result in saltwater intrusion, the process by which saltwater seeps into freshwater aquifers. "If we can provide guidance to teachers about these issues and make them aware, then children can form sustainable lifelong habits when it comes to water resources," said Garret Graaskamp of the AWGT.

With the continuing worldwide population-growth rate of 80 million people per year, an estimated 3.3 billion people could face water scarcity by 2025. That's more than a third of the human population. The challenge posed by water scarcity is generating new ideas about ways to provide drinking water to human populations. "We must utilize and blend different water sources," said Greg Young, a hydrogeologist with consulting firm MWH Americas, "from fresh ground and surface water to storing excess water when it is seasonally available to producing water with desalinization plants." Greater conservation and stricter water laws will also help reduce the pressure on water resources. Using low-flow fixtures, taking shorter showers, fixing leaky faucets, and following landscape and sprinkler regulations will reduce waste and overconsumption. In the near future, water prices will likely rise. "The reality is, water is too cheap," said Stone. "The average family spends $740 a year on soda but only $474 a year on water and wastewater services."

By participating in this nationwide program, USGS scientists come into closer contact with communities, educators, and other professionals. Besides threats from urbanization and population growth, Florida communities need to understand additional threats to water supplies posed by changing climate patterns and rising sea level. Teachers play a crucial role in educating the general public. "The understanding and differentiation of ground water and watersheds helped me to better understand it myself," said Charlene Vaughn, life-science teacher at Stambaugh Middle School. "If I don't really understand it, then how can I possibly explain the concepts to my students?"

About the author: Matthew Cimitile holds a B.A. in history from the University of Tampa and is obtaining an M.A. in environmental journalism from Michigan State University. He spent part of summer 2008 gaining experience in science communications by working with Ann Tihansky in the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center, St. Petersburg.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Partners for Ground-Water Education-Recent Teacher Workshops in Florida and California
August 2005
USGS and the American Ground Water Trust Expand Teacher Institute Program
June 2005

Related Web Sites
American Ground Water Trust
non-profit organization
Florida Geological Survey
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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Sea Otter Population Recovery Continues at Slower Rate

Scientists Map Arctic Sea Floor

Tribal Canoes Gather Water-Quality Data

Raising Awareness of Water-Resource Issues

Sea Otter Awareness Week

MIT Students Visit USGS

Meetings Diversity in the USGS Workforce

Awards Kvenvolden Honored at International Conference

Staff Community-Use "Recyclabikes"

USGS Woods Hole Welcomes Hapke

Publications Coral Reefs of the USA

September 2008 Publications List

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