The 16th Annual Project WET USA Water Education Conference is coming up August 7-9 in Denver, Colorado. As part of the run-up to the conference, the Water Education Blog will be highlighting some of the organizations sponsoring the Denver conference. Today's featured sponsor is Denver Water, Colorado's oldest and largest water utility, serving 1.3 million people in the city of Denver and surrounding suburbs. Matt Bond is Denver Water's Youth Education Manager, and he wrote this guest post about the importance—and difficulty—of educating people about the entire story of water.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." —Baba Dioum, environmentalist, excerpt from his 1968 speech to the general assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
"Do we really drink toilet water?" —Anonymous student
What a contrast. The first quote is the essence of everything we do as water educators. The second identifies the need. It's also one of the most commonly asked questions we get - no matter the age group. Third grader or high school senior, they all want to know the answer to that question. Innocent enough, the question highlights just how difficult it is to tell the entire story of water. Sure, in elementary school, most students learn the natural water cycle. But there's no catchy ditty that teaches the urban water cycle or the drinking water treatment process. You don't hear kids on the playground singing, "Flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, disinfection" to the tune of The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round.
It's much easier for us as educators to tell the story of water with the parts that are easiest to see. Streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are all readily identifiable, even by students who may never have visited one. How do you teach about the things that are equally as relevant, but are buried underground or hidden behind walls inside a secure facility? School districts understand the importance of including weather and climate or the properties of water in curriculum, but I've yet to run across one that requires students to learn the difference between storm and sanitary sewers.
The mere fact that you're reading this blog means you've self-identified as someone interested in water education. If you're like me, you're even a water geek. And hopefully, as water educators, we're all interested in telling the entire story of water. As the subject of water rises in public consciousness, and in political and social circles, the importance of educating youth about water is all the more critical. It's just as important for students to know where their shower water comes from and where it goes as it runs down the drain as it is to understand the reason ice floats. But how do we do that if we don't really know ourselves?
That's where utilities come in, whether they are governmental or private, urban or rural, small or large. Or, whether they manage potable, waste or storm water. They can all help tell the parts of the story that are hardest to see. The parts underground, behind walls. The smelly parts, too.
In Colorado alone, there are more than 2,000 public water systems. According to the EPA, there are approximately 155,000 across the nation. Add to that the more than 16,000 wastewater facilities, and there's probably an expert within easy reach of every school, environmental learning center or community educator—no matter where you are. If I've learned one thing in my 20 years in the water industry, those experts are proud of what they do and would like nothing more than to share that with you and your students.
So the next time you're teaching "Sum of the Parts" or "the Incredible Journey," please don't forget the other half of the story. Use "Super Bowl Surge", "Storm Water", "Rainy Day Hike", "Reaching Your Limit", "Urban Waters" or "A-maze-ing Water" another day—and while you're at it, think about inviting a water professional to your classroom.
To learn more about the conference or to register to attend, please visit the conference website.
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