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Waterwise Fifth Graders
By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte
You turn on the faucet and fresh, clean water comes gushing out. Have you ever stopped to think about how incredibly lucky we are to have that luxury? In fifth grade, we have been studying our watershed since the beginning of the year. We recently got the chance to see the process in action that brings fresh, clean water to us every day.
The students began the year by examining the relative amount of freshwater available to people around the world. To make this concept relevant to our lives, we began investigating our local watershed. The students learned that a watershed is not a shed that holds water, as many believed, but all the land that water flows over and drains from on its way to a larger body of water like a creek or river. We mapped our local watershed by touring the Rossman campus looking for drainage points, areas of runoff, and different surfaces that would affect water flow and absorption rates.
The students were very excited to explore the Rossman creek behind the school. We used Google Earth to zoom out from the Rossman Creek and observe how we fit into the larger watershed in St. Louis County. We learned that the water from our creek eventually flows into the Missouri River, which is also the source of our drinking water here in west St. Louis County.
After learning about different sources of pollution and ways to test a water source to gauge its “health,” we tested the quality of the water in our own creek. The students were happy to find that the Rossman creek is relatively healthy, as measured by the pH, turbidity and dissolved oxygen levels.
We were happy to welcome Mr. Neil Amiri from Missouri American Water to our classroom to share details about the water treatment process. Among other activities, he led an experiment to show that some materials dissolve in water and others don’t. He explained how the water treatment process must be able to filter out both particles we can see and particles we can’t see, which can oftentimes be very unhealthy for us. On Friday, October 21, we traveled to Missouri American Water’s largest water treatment facility in our area, off of Hog Hollow Rd. in Chesterfield. Martin Robison, the Operations Superintendent, led us step-by-step through the water treatment process.
The students were amazed to hear that the facility we visited pumps 160 million gallons of water per day to St. Louis County residents! We first climbed the Raw Water Intake Tower situated on the bank of the Missouri River and saw the river water flowing into the intake pipes. The students made observations of the river level, turbidity and flow and compared this to our little Rossman creek. We then walked the catwalks over the Presedimentation Basins to see how the sediment is removed from the water. The students were shocked by the drastic change in the appearance of the water from one side of the basin to the other.
After visiting the Primary Mixing Zone and the Primary Settling Basin, we ended our tour at the filtration station. At this point, the students were able to look down through clean fresh water and marvel that it was the same brown muddy water they had observed at the start of the process coming from the Missouri River. Mr. Robison was impressed by the students’ knowledge of water and water quality information and commented that they were a great audience who had very thoughtful questions.
After witnessing firsthand the amazing process that makes Missouri River water drinkable for us everyday, the students are wrapping up the watershed unit by completing a STEM project in class. They are acting as environmental engineers and designing their own water treatment filtration devices. The students are using some of the same filtration materials that Missouri American Water uses, including activated carbon and sand, and working within an operating budget.
After this in-depth study of the watershed and firsthand view of the water treatment process, our fifth graders have become great advocates for freshwater management and treatment. They may even be less likely to leave the water running when they brush their teeth!