Houston Kids Learn the Value of Protecting the City's Drinking Water Supplies

The Houston WaterWorks Water Festival marks 25 years of teaching kids about the importance of water and its protection.

Houston Kids Learn the Value of Protecting the City's Drinking Water Supplies

Exhibits at the festival teach kids about a variety of topics including recycling, hydroelectric power, water filtration, stormwater management, weather forecasting, flood plains, the water cycle, and water conservation.

In 1993, a few team members at Houston Water were charged to create a festival with activities to teach kids about water and the water cycle.

Last May the 25th annual Houston WaterWorks Water Festival drew about 1,100 elementary school children to the Discovery Green park near downtown. More than 40 exhibitors treated the kids to displays and hands-on activities around water resources and environmental protection.

The festival has changed locations and formats over the years, but the central message is always the same, says Aaron Chan, administrative manager. “It’s an opportunity to tell the kids: ‘This is where our water comes from. Here’s why it’s important to protect it for future generations by being good stewards today.’” 

Movable festival

Houston Water takes care of drinking water supply and wastewater treatment for about 2.2 million customers in a four-county service area covering more than 600 square miles. Lakes and rivers supply most of the drinking water: 86 percent flows from the Trinity River into Lake Livingston, and from the San Jacinto River into Lake Conroe and Lake Houston. Deep wells provide the balance of the supply.

The first few water festivals were held at the Houston Zoo. Later it moved to the Downtown Aquarium. Eight years ago the event relocated to the WaterWorks Education Center. On the site of the Northeast Water Purification Plant, the center includes exhibits that walk visitors through the stages of water treatment and explain the basics of drinking water supply and water science.

With the Northeast plant undergoing an expansion, the Houston Water staff held the 2018 festival at Discovery Green. While in past years the festival was spread over four days, this year’s event was held on one Friday, May 11, under the theme of “Protect the Source.” Kids in grades one to six were bused in.

Appealing exhibits

On arriving, the kids saw public works machinery on display, including a vacuum truck used to clean the city storm drains and a pipeline video inspection van. The city GIS, health, traffic and transportation departments also had exhibits. Lab technicians from the East Water Purification plant demonstrated water testing.

“We also had an exhibit for our Corral the Grease program, educating the public to avoid pouring fats, oils, and grease down the drain,” Chan says. “And we addressed the problem of so-called flushable wipes, teaching kids what can be flushed down the toilet: keeping it to the three P’s of pee, poop and paper.”

Park and Recreation Department staff members displayed snakes and a small alligator. A Planning Department staffer taught about recycling with a game in which kids tossed recyclable and nonrecyclable items into the appropriate buckets.

Busy hands

The Houston Water staff encouraged other exhibitors to include hands-on activities. Among the highlights:

Garver Engineering demonstrated how hydroelectric power works using water tanks, small hydroturbines and circuit boards.

KIT Professionals presented an interactive experiment showing the properties of water related to filtration.

The Harris County Flood Control District demonstrated how stormwater detention basins work against erosion. Staff members gave away raindrop stress balls, rain gauges and other items.

The National Weather Service provided weather and water forecasts and information about alerts for inclement weather. The exhibit included a hydrology model that demonstrated various flooding situations.  

The Houston Floodplain Management office offered flood plain safety and education handouts and coloring books. A simulator showed how flood plains are mapped out.

Girlstart let students explore hydropower by creating and testing a water wheel. 

Harris County Precinct One Environmental Education Programs shared live creatures in terrariums for the students to touch and learn about. 

The U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Program taught students about the water cycle and the importance of conserving water.

Looking ahead

Collectively, the exhibits have an impact on the kids, Chan notes. “We’ve had a lot of flooding in Houston over the last few years. Many people say, ‘We have so much rain, why do we have drought restrictions?’ Well, the rain isn’t exactly where our water comes from. We want to reach kids at younger ages. The hope is that later in life they remember how they learned about the water cycle and how it all works.”

Houston Water is looking at extending outreach to older students, either by expanding the WaterWorks Water Festival or adding a separate event for the middle and high school crowd. One approach to reaching older students would be with information about water careers.

Teachers have responded favorably to the festival, and the utility is starting to build relationships with teachers in organizations that promote science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education. Chan says, “That enables us to have access to more teachers and let them get to know us.” It’s a good start toward a second quarter-century of the WaterWorks Water Festival.


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