The One Percent

A poster contest and “groundwater parfaits” help students in a Washington city appreciate the value and scarcity of fresh water.
The One Percent
Abbey Spencer’s winning poster captures the essence of “Water’s Worth It” in a single drop of water, challenging people to “look closely.”

Fourth grade is a time when kids experience science hands-on. Concepts like electricity, sound and the three states of matter — solid, liquid and gas — challenge and excite them.

So what better way to teach these future water stewards than to engage them in an annual water conservation program and poster contest? Each year since 2008, Emily Resch has done that in her role as conservation program coordinator for the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District and the City of Blaine, Wash.

She presents a compact yet comprehensive program to the combined fourth grade classes at Blaine Elementary School. Her objective is to encourage critical thinking about how local water is sourced, how to conserve it and why it is important, all while having fun. In early spring, Resch visits Blaine Elementary to teach students not just about how the utility functions, but about the water they use every day.

Learning made sweeter

Blaine is bounded on the north by Canada. Since the water source for the Blaine/Birch Bay area is groundwater, Resch employs a unique and engaging method of teaching how the earth is layered and how groundwater travels. She has students build parfaits of ice cream and candies, creating layers to simulate those in the earth.

They learn how water collects and then flows through the rock layers by gently pouring soda onto their edible creations. They observe how it falls, where it pools and how it moves. The lesson is relevant, and the reward is sweet. “The kids are really engaged at the fourth-grade level,” says Resch. “They’re fun to teach, and they ask lots of questions.”

Resch packs a lot into her one-hour presentations. Topics include how much water is on the earth, where local drinking water comes from, what groundwater is, how it is different from water in lakes, how easily it can be polluted and how that pollution could affect people. Water conservation is an important part of the topic.

Passion for conservation

Resch is well-qualified for her role: She holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography from Ohio University and a masters in geography and natural resources from Western Washington University.

Her career spans six years in water management and conservation programs, including Whatcom Water Weeks, a two-week celebration about the importance of Whatcom County’s water resources put on by Whatcom Watersheds Information Network (WWIN) and the Whatcom Water Alliance, a group that coordinates public information among municipalities and water districts in the county. Resch is also an elected board member of the Partnership for Water.

Resch actively engages countywide partnerships among various agencies and organizations to educate the community and promote stewardship of water resources. She explores local geography with students to stimulate an interest beyond water.

Resch teaches that water is a limited resource. “The view from space shows the earth as the big, blue marble, but with less than one percent of the earth’s water available as fresh, the need for conservation is vitally important for kids to understand at this age,” she says. “Once they learn that the other 99 percent of water is saltwater, or frozen in glaciers and ice caps, they realize how little freshwater is available and want to understand conservation concepts.”

Creative posters

The utility’s program is taught in late April. Students then have about four weeks to develop their posters for the utility’s annual contest. The poster theme each year mirrors a larger water conservation campaign that launches at the beginning of summer. Winning posters are displayed at the summer campaign launch event and at other civic events throughout the year.

The 2013 poster contest theme was based on “Water’s Worth It,” a broad-based messaging campaign by the Water Environment Federation. It enabled 175 students to demonstrate their awareness of water conservation as future stewards. They compete for prizes as well as a pizza party they can win for their entire class. Elected city officials judge the contest.

The posters also spark awareness for the district’s summer water conservation campaign. Emphasis is on voluntary commitments to reduce outdoor watering and awareness of chemical runoff from fertilizers and other ground contaminants. Resch says the program pays off not just in awareness but in compliance: Residents commit to voluntary limits on watering, helping to reduce the city’s water usage.

Even for a city as small as Blaine (population less than 5,000), there is clear value in preserving water resources by investing in future stewards.


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