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Water Conservation Education for Children

Updated on November 26, 2021
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Using her master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.

5th graders walking to their next activity. The green bag around this student's neck holds a T-shirt, educational materials, and additional items from some of the booths.
5th graders walking to their next activity. The green bag around this student's neck holds a T-shirt, educational materials, and additional items from some of the booths.
Volunteers preparing to hand out lunches to presenters and other volunteers. They have already set up tables and chairs under the tent behind them for students and teachers to eat their own lunches.
Volunteers preparing to hand out lunches to presenters and other volunteers. They have already set up tables and chairs under the tent behind them for students and teachers to eat their own lunches. | Source

In March of every year 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders gather at a museum, park, university, or similar venue in Orange County, California to learn about water. They learn how the earth's rain cycle works, what the local water issues are, and how they can help protect water supplies. This event is a contribution to the community organized by public and private entities working together.

The festival lasts two days and is presented by the Orange County Water District (OCWD), Disneyland Resort, National Water Research Institute, and the OCWD Groundwater Guardian Team. All of them do it for public education purposes, but it provides visibility and good public relations too. The festival is now the largest of its kind in the United States.

Hands-On Education for Kids

Each booth at the festival provides an interactive presentation or hands-on activity for kids to learn about water and the environment. One booth might demonstrate what groundwater is - with students half filling a container with tiny rocks, adding soil, then water, and watching it trickle down into the soil, as the presenter describes what's happening. Another booth might show how a low flow toilet works. Yet another might show the dangers of pollution and how water and health is affected.

Teachers are required to preregister their classes for either day of the event. The classes are scheduled for 20 minutes at each booth, with a lunch break midday. This is an exciting, full day field trip for young students.

How the Water Education Festival Grew

Since its inception in 1996, the festival has drawn over 95,000 participants from Orange County schools. Since all presentations are taught to California's Science Standards, teachers are able to treat the event as an official school field trip that supplements their own classroom teaching.

The festival grows larger each year. In 2010, when I served as a volunteer and took some of the photos depicted herein, nearly 5,000 students attended. In 2012, attendees included students from 65 public, private, and home schools from 21 cities in Orange County. In 2013 more than 7,000 children attended.

The Orange County Water District (OCWD) first developed the festival as a public education service, to counteract the drought California was going through. Using the venue of the festival and the influence of children, they hoped to persuade families to start using water more efficiently.

One hands-on experiment students do at the festival - pumping water from the aquafir.
One hands-on experiment students do at the festival - pumping water from the aquafir. | Source

Water Conservation Education

The Children's Water Education Festival was founded on the observation that what children learn at school is taken home, affecting the behavior of their parents and siblings. It acknowledges the power youngsters have when they ask, "How come we don't . . .?" or "My teacher said . . . . but do we do that?"

The festival both teaches school children about the hydrologic cycle and gives their teachers ideas for how to introduce the concept in the classroom. When the children leave they take with them bags with goodies that include pamphlets and kits, and often faucet aerators or even low flow showerheads for their parents to install. Sponsors of the festival have the opportunity to provide additional items.

Organization of the Childrens Water Education Festival

The Orange County Water District (OCWD) and Disneyland Resort organize and coordinate the running of the festival each year, and many other sponsors contribute to the event. Presenters (over 70 of them) include local water agencies, cities, utilities, educational organizations and more. Community and service group volunteers help with everything from setup to assisting presenters. Teachers and parent volunteers from all over Orange County accompany and monitor their students. The goals of the organizers mesh well.

Recruitment postcard for 2013 event.
Recruitment postcard for 2013 event. | Source

Orange County Water District

OCWD and the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) together manage and distribute Orange County's water supply to the retail utilities that supply individuals and businesses. Under the north and central part of Orange Country is a giant aquifer, from which utilities there draw almost 75% of their water supply. OCWD manages and protects that aquifer, including refilling it with recycled water to make sure there is adequate supply. MWDOC (also a festival sponsor) manages water supplies that have been imported from elsewhere.

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In addition to their innovative Children’s Water Education Festival, OCWD has become an international figure for their state-of-the-art Groundwater Replenishment System. They have developed technology for purifying wastewater so it can be injected into the groundwater basin instead of dumped into the ocean. The fresh water is used to recharge the basin and to prevent saltwater from encroaching into the basin near the coast. Governments and utilities all over the world have requested information on OCWD's technology.

OCWD also has a "Water Hero" program for kids. Children can go onto the utility's website and sign up to become an OC Water Hero by pledging to save 20 gallons of water a day. In exchange, OCWD sends them a kit that includes a shower timer, a water tips magnet, stickers, a "ticket" pad to bust water wasters, a parent pledge form, and a Water Hero badge.

Disney Resort's Goals

Disneyland Resort is OCWD's organizing partner. Their long term environmental goal, as stated on their website, is to "inform, empower, and activate employees, business partners, and consumers to take positive action for the environment." Here are some of the activities they carry out to further that goal:

  • Disney's Global Green Team assists with local environmental events worldwide, and works within the company to educate colleagues and build awareness about the company's environmental goals.
  • The company recently started annual environmental summits online to share best practices and network for fresh ideas. In 2010 more than 500 cast members (actors) and employees took part.

  • Examples of projects Disney supports are: Green fairs (such as this festival), recycling drives, tree planting events, beach cleanups, and involvement in celebrating Earth Month. Here is the video they put together in 2010 called "Earth Day 2010" (right).

Water Education Helps Students & Teachers

Benefits of the festival to students and teachers are many, as you will see in the video on the right. Here are some of the benefits they, themselves, have expressed:

  • Students are excited about attending each year. The festival provides a free field trip where they can learn interesting things. Each booth is different and they jostle each other to see who can get closest.

  • Kids are eager to learn about water conservation and safety. They also learn about how to deposit hazardous waste, so it doesn't end up in landfills or the water they drink.

  • The children meet interesting people - like a member of Jacque Cousteau's family, who told them what was happening with the ocean.

  • The excitement and hands-on learning helps students to remember and apply what they have learned when they go home. Having a bag of handouts and gewgaws to take home also helps.

Teachers and parent volunteers who accompany the children also benefit from the festival:

  • Teachers love it, because it extends the lessons they are able to teach in the classroom.

  • Because it's a field trip, the impact is bigger on students than the same lesson in a classroom would be and they remember more.

  • What the teachers see and learn gives them ideas to enliven their own lessons in the classroom.

  • They like that the festival gives students a well rounded approach to what's happening in the real world.

Click on "Conservation & Education/Water Education Festival" to find photos.
Click on "Conservation & Education/Water Education Festival" to find photos. | Source

Benefits of this annual festival seem to have accrued to everyone, making it a win-win project. Students and their families, teachers and their assistants have benefitted as described above. All contributors benefit from increasing positive interaction with the children and from the satisfaction of being able to get their message across in a unique and direct way. OCWD benefits by seeing water use go down, so they don't have to replenish as much groundwater, and so they can purchase less supplemental water from MWDOC. This brings a certain amount of relief that they will be able to provide enough water to their retailers in the future.

There is always the danger that corporate sponsors will misuse such an event, but when working with children in a venue such as this, it's actually pretty hard to be too self-serving. Children's characters are generous and open, especially when they're excited about learning. This draws out those same characteristics in the adults that teach them, so company representatives leave the festival feeling like the day itself was worthwhile, irrespective of whether more business comes from it. Relationships with their festival partners is also enhanced and adds to the value of the work.


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