Learning about Local Water

Last Thursday’s field trip with Ms. Berryhill’s Earth Sciences class at McCurdy High School was entirely water-themed and introduced our students to their local water.

We began at NMWC and revisited our last class activity- desalination. Students broke into groups of one or two and made solar stills. To encourage friendly competition and up the game, there was a prize involved- a gift card to Dairy Queen!

A student putting final touches on his still
This one is ready to go outside!
Four hands are helpful
These girls used their design from last week, altered to be appropriate for solar power instead of a stove.

Students only had one hour to complete this activity because we had a date to keep at the Espanola Waste Water Treatment Plant. This plant is responsible for treating sewage and waste water from houses in Espanola. Our tour was very informative, and we were pleased to hear that almost no chemicals are used to treat our water. UV light is used instead. The water is returned to the Rio Grande, but only after rigorous testing, and the water that goes back to the river is cleaner than the water already in the river!

Students got to visit the lab where scientists examine water at different stages of the treatment process. We observed the results of a test for E-Coli, and students got to look through a microscope at some of the water.

Examining water under a microscope
Results of an old E-Coli test

As we walked through the lab, I noticed a familiar-looking device on one wall. It was actually a still- the lab makes its own distilled water! I pointed it out to students, and they were able to guess what it was and explain it. Our students were also very familiar with some of the water quality testing that goes on at the lab. It’s just like what we did earlier this year!

This is a bit more complicated than the solar stills that students created.

After this tour, students came back to NMWC for one last activity. Again, everybody split up into groups. Each group was given a geologic cross section of the Espanola Basin, an excerpt from the National Climate Assessment on how climate change is projected to alter precipitation in the Southwest U.S., and listings for two local houses for sale. Each house had a slightly different water supply- either a cistern, a private well, or city water. Students had to determine which house they would buy if they wanted a long term investment (and if they wanted to have a trustworthy water supply in 5o years). In this exercise, geology, weather and climate, and water all play a role. Students were able to synthesize much of what we’ve talked about this year and apply it to a realistic situation!

After our discussion of real estate, students ran outside to check their solar stills.


These clever students put their device on the roof!

Judging this contest turned out to be much more difficult than I anticipated, and with Dairy Queen hanging in the balance, the stakes were high. Two groups created quite a bit of water, but it had a salty taste, which means that they did not entirely desalinate their water (or maybe their still sloshed while taking it off the roof). In the end one participant had not only created about 1/8 of a cup of water, but the water was good enough quality to drink. The challenge was to desalinate the most amount of water, and since this still was the only one that produced fresh water, the winner was clear.

Both of these teams did a pretty good job.

At the end of the day, I think even the students were worn out, but everybody learned something! Next month… volcanoes!


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