The Water Environment Federation Gets in on the Act of Outreach With a Special Event at Its Conference

A daylong education fair held in conjunction with WEFTEC teaches elementary and middle school students about the value of water.

The Water Environment Federation Gets in on the Act of Outreach With a Special Event at Its Conference

Water Palooza is a regular event during WEFTEC conferences and generally includes an appearance by the WEF mascot.

Joseph A. Craig Charter School was host for the 2018 Water Palooza educational fair, sponsored by the Water Environment Federa- tion in conjunction with WEF’s Technical Exhibition and Conference.

It’s an annual event where volunteers from businesses and organizations teach elementary and middle schoolers about the value of water through hands-on activities and demonstrations. Some 20,000 water professionals attend the conference, and Water Palooza enables them to give something back to the host cities, according to Carol Kinzer, chair of WEF’s Water Palooza subcommittee.

Not all schools have water-related curricula; Water Palooza helps young students take an interest in protecting water resources and learning about water careers. Kinzer notes that the kids go home and tell their parents, thus spreading the word.

Getting engaged

Since Water Palooza started in 2013, six schools have taken part, three each from Chicago and New Orleans, for a total of 3,100 students.

Each year, the six-hour Friday program kicks off with a half-hour pep rally, often led by a local government official and a WEF spokesperson to get the students excited about the day’s activities. Local vendors, organizations, consultants, and WEF sponsor booths that teach students about their local water environment, the value of water, and how they can protect water resources at home, in their school, and in the community.

Typically, about 15 booths present water activities. At a water Q&A booth, students learn water facts and how to be good stewards. Other activities include a poster session that the students create, and a career station where students are quizzed on their interests and receive an introduction to various jobs in the water industry. Afterward, the kids get uniforms for the professions they choose and have their pictures taken.

More than 300 students from grades K-8 rotate through the stations. “Niles the Crocodile, the WEF mascot, makes a visit every year and is a big hit with kids,” says Megan Livak, student and young professionals manager for the WEF association engagement team.

Students are taught in creative ways. “Engineers from a water treatment plant at last year’s event provided microscopes hooked to TV screens so students could see the microorganisms moving in the water,” Kinzer says. “Then they used a sponge to show how the water could be filtered and cleaned.” It was the first time some students used a microscope.

The Water Palooza toolkit, which is incorporated into the day’s event, and downloadable from the WEF website, is used throughout the year at other events around the country including Earth Day, World Water Day, and WEF Member Association conferences.

Being of service

On the Saturday after the 2018 Water Palooza in New Orleans, students took part in a community engagement project around creating a bioretention cell for the Treme Community Center across the street from the school.

The project was chosen from several submitted to address stormwater runoff at the center. At present, an old 1,450-square-foot concrete planter collects rainwater from a slanted roof on the building. The water then has nowhere to drain, and it creates a flooding problem.

“The area around the center is very developed, and consequently, there aren’t a lot of parks with vegetation or grasslands to absorb the water,” Livak says. “To address the problem, the planter will be replaced with a bioretention cell of native plants.”

In addition, a large green infrastructure graphic will be designed on the side of the community center to educate students and the community on a water-related topic. Once it’s outlined, about 200 volunteers including students, adults, and WEF Young Professionals will complete and paint it.

Kinzer says, “Water Palooza and the service project are a great way to add to the WEFTEC experience and to leave a positive effect on the host city. It’s gaining more traction each year among WEF attendees and the students as they participate and see its value.”


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