Students examine the basic geography of a watershed, how water flows through the system, and how people can impact the quality of our water. Grades 3-5
- 8 ½ x 11 paper (one sheet for each student)
- 4 different colors of water soluble markers
- Spray bottles of water
watershed: a watershed is the area of land where all of the water that falls in it and drains off of it goes into the same place
Background Agricultural Connections
A watershed is a geographic area in which water, sediment and dissolved minerals all drain into a common body of water like a stream, creek, reservoir, or bay. A watershed includes all the plants, animals and people who live in it, as well as the non-living components like rocks and soil. We are all part of a watershed, and everything we do can affect the surface and ground water that runs through this system.
Agriculture and farmers can have an important impact on the watershed and our water resources. We cannot survive without the food, clothing and shelter we get from agriculture. Without water, agriculture cannot happen. Water is needed to grow plants and animals and to process raw materials into products we use. Crop irrigation is also a big part of agriculture. Agriculture’s need for water must be balanced with all the other ways water is needed. Farmers and other people involved in agriculture must also work to conserve and protect the water in our watershed. A few actions that farmers do to protect our water include:
- Planting grass strips between crops and streams, lakes and other surface water. The grassy area slows water running off the crop fields and also traps and filters soil, nutrients, pesticides and other potential pollutants before they reach the streams and lakes.
- Leaving plant remnants such as stalks or leaves on fields after harvesting instead of plowing them into the soil. This reduces the amount of soil that is washed into our water resources. Farmers also plant crops in strips, alternating row corps (such as corn) with hay or pasture crops to hold the soil in place and keep our water clean.
- Keeping manure and livestock animal wastes contained helps keep these potential pollutants out of rivers, wetland and lakes.
All of us live in a watershed so everyone can have an impact on the water quality, as well as the animals and plants that share life in the watershed. Some actions that everyone can take to protect water include:
- Plant and Grow – If there are bare spots in a yard, plant grass, shrubs, etc. Plants prevent erosion which leads to soil being moved through the watershed into our lakes and rivers
- Sweep hard surfaces like sidewalks, driveways and basketball courts with a broom instead of spraying with a hose. Water is saved and harmful pollutants are kept out of storm drains.
- Do not dump used motor oil, hazardous chemicals, pet waste or any other materials down the storm drains or on the ground. The water in storm drains flows to rivers, lakes or other bodies of water and could end up in our drinking water.
This Wad-a-Watershed activity provides an excellent visual representation of a watershed and how the actions of everyone - farmers, homeowners, business people, etc. can impact the water resources. Hopefully students will gain an understanding of agricultural conservation practices and also actions that the students can take to protect our water supply.
- Ask students to list several products that farmers produce. If needed, be sure students know that farmers produce food, flowers, fibers such as cotton, and even forestry products to provide lumber. List several items on the board.
- Next, ask students to look at the list they have created and identify what things farmers need to grow these items. Students might recognize land, seed, sunlight, or animals. Use guided questions until they identify water as a necessary element.
- Use a class discussion to help students begin to recognize the importance of water in our lives and the importance of water to agriculture. Without water, farmers could not produce our food, fiber, and other necessities of life.
Explore and Explain
- Give each student an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper and instruct them to crumple the paper into a tight ball. Gently open the paper, but don’t flatten completely. Tell students that this piece of crumpled paper represents a watershed. Use the background information to define the word watershed with students. On their paper watershed, the highest points represent hills and the lowest wrinkles represent valleys.
- Choose one color of water-soluble marker and have all students mark the highest points on their watershed (crinkled paper). Discuss with students the “high points” in your community and also areas of high elevation that students have visited.
- Discuss with students that most bodies of water are in lower elevations. Choose a second color (preferably a shade of blue) and mark the places where different bodies of water might be: creeks, rivers, lakes, etc.
- Have students think of creeks, rivers, and lakes that they have visited and describe the land around these water features.
- With a third color, mark two to three spaces to represent human settlements: housing, factories, shopping centers, office buildings, schools, etc. Discuss with students what impact these areas might have on the bodies of water (Use the water for drinking, sanitation, etc, actions such as lawn irrigation, pollution, etc. can impact the water sources)
- With a fourth color, mark two to three agricultural areas where plants and/or animals could be raised. Discuss with students the needs of these plants and animals (water, food, shelter) and also how the actions of the animals might impact the water.
- Use the spray bottles to lightly spray the finished maps. The spray represents rain (precipitation) falling into the watershed. Discuss students’ observations about how water travels through the system. Some questions to ask:
- What changes did you observe in the maps?
- Where does most of the rain fall?
- What path does the water follow?
- What happens to the human settlement areas – are they in the way of a raging river or crumbling hillside?
- How would the flow of water through a watershed in real life affect our choice of building sites?
- What happens to the agricultural areas – would the water flowing from these areas impact any other areas?
- What actions do you think farmers take in real life to protect the water quality?
- How does your map demonstrate the idea of a watershed?
Research your local watershed district and invite a representative to speak with your students about watershed management.
Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service and/or Soil and Water Conservation District to see if there are educational resources available, guest speakers and possibly an EnviroScape demonstration model.
Invite a local farmer to visit your classroom and talk with your students about how he/she uses different conservation methods to protect the water supply.
Play the My American Farm interactive game Wild Water Adventures.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- A watershed is a geographic area in which water, sediment, and dissolved minerals all drain into a comon body of water like a stream, creek, reservoir, or bay.
- A watershed includes all the plants, animals, and people who live in it, as well as the non-living components like rocks and soil.
- Water is an important part of agriculture. Agriculture and farmers can have an impact on watershed and our water resources.
- Farmers and other people involved in agriculture must work to conserve and protect water in our watershed.
This lesson is adapted from Ilinois Agriculture in the Classroom's Wad-a-Watershed lesson.
Recommended Companion Resources
- Kids' Lab Activity Book
- My American Farm
- Project WET
- Science in Your Watershed
- The Story of Bottled Water video
- The USGS Water Science School
- The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation
- Water Pollution Demonstration
- Water is Water
- Water: Sources, Use, Conservation
- Weather Harvest Game
- Wiki Watershed