How To Lead Environmental Engineers

Environmental Engineers:

Discussion Info:

What is an Environmental Engineer:

Can anyone, by looking around the classroom, give a one-word guess as to what this class, Environmental Engineers, is concerned about? (The Environment. Basically everything that is outside!) An Environmental Engineer is a person who specializes in the study of pollution in the environment, and who seeks to find better ways of doing things to lessen mankind’s impact on the environment and/or to protect nature.

“Environmental engineers are employed by government departments and instrumentalities, and consultancy firms. Some are employed by large manufacturing firms, mining companies and universities to undertake research in the field and to develop solutions to environmental engineering problems.

“Job opportunities depend on:

  • Investment in pollution prevention and control technology by industry and state authorities.
  • Environmental awareness in the community.
  • Funding for the state Environmental Protection Authority.
  • The adoption of uniform environmental standards”*.

(*Quote taken from the “Australian Environmental Engineers Job Description” 1998)

To do this class properly, we would need to be in this classroom for the next four years, and you would have a college degree when we got done! Because most of you would probably be sick of us by the end of four years, we aren’t going to do that. Instead, we are going to just focus on one area of the environment…


Water is amazing stuff! But, before we can understand how we use water, we need to know a few fun facts about water:

1. 75% of our body is water! (3/4 for those of you keeping track!) So, is fresh

water important to us. You’d better believe it!)

2. 2/3 of the earth is covered with water. I need to have you imagine a cube, one

mile long, one mile wide and one mile high. Pretty big, huh? Now, I need you

to imagine 320,000,000 of them. There is 320,000,000 cubic miles of water

just in the oceans! So, is clean water important to life on earth? (Only if we

want life to continue on earth…)

3.Water is made up of two elements: hydrogen and oxygen. There are two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in every water molecule. No big deal right? However, look at this:

4.There is no such thing as “pure water. If you take water, turn it to steam, back into water, filter it, add chemicals to it, remove the chemicals from it, ionize it until there is nothing left but pure water and then pour it into a completely cleaned container, you will no longer have pure water. Why? How can it not be pure when you are pouring pure water through pure air into a pure bottle? Because of the way a water molecule is put together, it is able to dissolve (break apart) anything! As soon as the water enters the bottle, it begins to dissolve the bottle. As the water passes through the air, “dissolves” the air! This can lead to some fun things:

Grand Canyon:

We know that water can dissolve simple things, like sugar (pronounced “Kool-Aid”) and, even fun things like dirt. That’s why you take showers. (That’s also why we like you to take showers. PHEW! Could you imagine how bad it would smell if nobody showered for the whole week they were here? Nastiness!) But, can water dissolve something harder? (Yes.) How about rock? (Sure it can dissolve rock, if given enough time.) We have a great, or should I say “grand” example of this in a south-western state. Can anyone think of what grand thing I’m thinking of? (The Grand Canyon) What carved it? (The Colorado River and a heck of a lot of time!)


Water can dissolve metals, too. What do we call a piece of iron that’s being “dissolved” by water? (Rust) It can also eat at copper, which is why it turns green!

Trench Foot:

Water can even dissolve humans! During World War H, a lot of battles were fought in trenches. Basically, both sides dug these huge holes in the ground and stood in them to kill each other. When it rained, however, there was a problem: the rain would fill the trenches, but would never fully drain out. The soldiers would stand in water twenty-four / seven and their feet would always be damp. Well, this continued for about a month before the soldier would be forced to go into the hospital, unable to continue to fight. When they removed the soldier’s boots, the skin on his feet would fall off, too! (Cool, huh?) This is why they invented water-proof boots!

You can even get trench-foot this week, if you want. If your feet get wet and you never change your socks, you will get the starting signs of trench foot. Your feet will turn a bright red, and if you touch your skin it will feel like someone has just slammed a hammer down on that spot! Sounds like fun, right?

The cure for trench foot? Let your feet. (Gee, that was tough.)


In the south, some cities have come up with an interesting way of burying people. In places with high humidity (water in the air), they don’t bury people underground! They seal them in boxes above ground. Why? The humidity will help to dissolve the bodies! (Who even thought of this? Yeesh!) That’s right, within a few years, you can whip that box open and ta-daa! You have an empty box and can use it all over again.

By the way, a way that all of you have seen water working on “loosening” your skin is by being in the bathtub too long. What happens to your skin? (It gets all wrinkly.) If you stay in water for too long, like a month straight, you, too, can dissolve. Does this mean you don’t have to take showers? (No! Short times in water won’t kill you. Long times without water will kill us as you all become skunk-children!)

Basically, if you give water enough time, it will dissolve anything it comes in contact with! (At this point, if students are tuned out, I recommend taking some of the distilled water and splash it on yourself, the floor, etc.. and scream that everyone should look out! There is a chemical that will (eventually) dissolve whatever it comes in contact with! This serves as a nice wake-up call.

5. Water, an inorganic not living substance, can actually climb up things! There is a thing called “capillary action”, where water will go up an object, against the pull of gravity! (To demonstrate this, stick a paper towel in water, prop it up and leave it there while you lecture. Come back to it in a few minutes and show that the top is wet, even though it was above the water.)

6. Water has a high heat capacity. In other words, t can absorb a lot of heat without becoming much warmer itself. That’s why it seems to take forever for a pot of water to get boiling. That’s also why, no matter how much you play in the lake, your body heat never warms up the swim area! (Shall we conduct an experiment to determine if chucking them in the lake warms up the water?

7. Water has a high surface tension. In other words, water likes itself It hangs onto itself and doesn’t like to let parts of it get away. To prove this, how many of you have ever filled a glass with water so that the water was hi r than the glass? That’s surface tension!

8. Water has high cohesive and adhesive properties. Cohesion means that it likes to keep itself together. We also call that “surface tension like we just discussed. But what does it mean that water is “adhesive”? Has anyone ever heard the term adhesive? (Tape.) What does tape do? (Sticks to stuff.) So what does water do if it’s adhesive? (Sticks to stuff.)

9. Fun fact: density water is greatest at 32.9 degrees F (4 C).

10. Finally, and most importantly, water exists in the three phases of matter, solid, liquid and gas, within earth’s normal temperature range. There is no other “natural” material that we know of that can do that. Mercury, at room temperature, is a liquid. If we tossed it out into the Siberian winters, it might become a solid, but there is no way, short of chucking it into a volcano, that we can get it to become a gas. If we take some man-made chemicals, we can find stuff that will turn into the three different phases of matter, but they are man­made. Water is the only substance we can find in nature that does that all on its own!

What do we call water as a solid? (Ice.) Does water become a solid easily? (Yes. That’s why we have winter.) What do we call it when water is becoming a solid? (Freezing.) Okay, we got is but we need to play with other stuff, so we leave the ice out of the freezer. What happens to it? (It melts and becomes a liquid.) What do we call water as a liquid? (Water.) How about if we leave water out on a sunny day? (It becomes a gas.) What do we call water as a gas? (Steam or water vapor.)

The Water Cycle:

(You can have them fill out the “Water Cycle” section under the heading, “Cycles” in the Concept Paths.) Here’s one other fun fact for you: do we constantly add water to the earth? (No.) The water on earth is recycled. You’ll understand more about this later, but for now, we need to talk about how the earth naturally recycles water in a process called, “The Water Cycle“. It has to do with two of the three phases of matter:


Step One:

Water as a liquid (in a lake, for example) becomes water as a gas and rises up into the air when heated by the sun; we call this process evaporation”. When water is a gas, do you suppose it can carry much chunky stuff pollution up into the air with it? (No.) This is nature’s way of cleaning water.

Step Two: The water vapor water as a gas encounters cool air, gathers together and forms into clouds: we call this process condensation”.

Step Three: The water droplets in the clouds falls back down to earth as rain, sleet, snow, hail, etc..; we call this process “precipitation”. This water is absorbed into the ground, replenishing the supply of groundwater, hits hills and creates run­off which fills rivers, lakes and streams. The water flows through the rivers down into the oceans, refilling the oceans. All water sources on earth are dependent upon this process for natural purification.

So, if all goes well, the rainwater falling down should be clean right? What can go wrong with the water cycle, though? (If there is air pollution…) So, we can mess up the process! The cool thing is, there was a plan for dealing with air pollution! If you filter scuzzy, grody water down through the four layers of soil, the water coming out the bottom will be pure! That’s why we have wells; they take that groundwater that has been cleaned by nature, and bring it back up to us so that we can use it. As we go along, we’ll talk more about why the water cycle is important, what we can do to interfere with the water cycle, and also talk about “natural” problems in the water cycle, itself, but first…

Water On Earth:

Have the students flip to the “Water on Earth” page in their journals. Let’s look at this page and discuss it together. Note: this page is based upon the idea that all of the water on earth was equal o the water in a five gallon aquarium (this is a comparison, not an actual fact; some students will never understand the difference). “T” stands for tablespoons, and will be important for the students to understand as it is the unit of measurement for this activity. There are approximately 1280 T in a five gallon aquarium. Now, on with the show…

Water On Earth*

· Oceans 1244.1600 T

· All ice caps/glaciers 25.6000

· Groundwater 7.9300

· Freshwater Lakes 0.1100

· Inland seas/saltwater Lakes 0.1000

· Atmosphere 0.0128

· All Rivers 0.0012


Total 1280.0000 T

*From the Cousteau Almanac, NY: Doubleday / Dolphin, 1981, p.114.

How Much Fresh Water Is Available For Human Use?:

On the list of water above, what can we use to drink? (Have students put a mark by the following: All icecaps / glaciers, Groundwater, Freshwater Lakes, Atmosphere, All Rivers.) What are the only two we can’t use? (Oceans, Inland Seas / Saltwater Lakes.) Why not? (We can’t drink saltwater.) Have the students add up the numbers to determine how many tablespoons this works out to. (33.654 Tablespoons.)

Now that you have your number, select a volunteer to go up to the aquarium and, using the tablespoon and the bucket provided, have them scoop out 34 T (33.654 rounded up). Have the class count with to make sure they get it right. When they are done, have the student sit down.

Take the bucket around and show the students how much water there is in the bucket. Compared to the five gallon aquarium, is this a lot of water to drink? (No.) However, this represents all the freshwater from the list above! Not much, is it? (No.) Now, for those smart people who claim, “I can drink that all in one gulp!”, get them to understand that this represents 8,656,000 cubic miles of water! Now could they drink that all down? (I don’t think so!)

All species of plants and animals are dependent upon this small amount of water. If all the ground water were polluted, how would this affect the supply?

Have the students take their previous total (33.654 T) and subtract from that the amount of tablespoons for groundwater (7.93 T). Have them write down their answer. (25.724 T) what happened to the water supply when we polluted the groundwater? (There’s less.) What will happen to all of the plants and animals? (No! They won’t all die) What will happen to some of them? (They will adapt to having less water.)

Preparations For Leaving:

So, do you see how water affects life on earth? Are you beginning to understand how important it is? Good! But you haven’t seen anything yet! We are now gearing up for the water testing part of our class and, if you’re really lucky, the “Humans Are Stupid” moments! But first, we need to do a few things.

1. Pick up the four water sampling bottles. Ask for someone to read what it says on the bottle. The first person to get it right, gets the bottle. Make sure, however, you have an equal split between boys / girls. Also, warn them to not shake, drop, or mangulate in any way, shape or form their bottles as they go along.

2. Ask for someone to be the secretary for the trip. Don’t tell them hat this person will have most of their journal work done ahead of time, but just ask for a volunteer! If no one volunteers, then volunteer someone. They will be the only one to take their journal and pencil; have everyone else leave what they don’t need behind because we will be coming back.

3. I usually hand the Environmental Engineers bag to someone. This bag should contain the pontoon boat key, a radio, thermometers, a diagram of the water cycle, first aid kit, spare gas tank, emergency rations, flare gun and whatever other accouterments that you feel you need.

4. Wait! Before you go, have them try to guess what water sample can be collected first. (Tap.) Have it filled now and leave the bottle behind. (That’s one less bottle to worry about.) See next section for how to get a water sample…

5. Explain that they will be going down to the Waterfront. They must wait for you (preferably stay with you) and they must not run down the hill! (I’ve seen two broken arms from people running down the hill!)

6. Any questions. Let’s go!

Water Sampling:

Here’s how to get an accurate water sample:

1. Fill the bottle with water.

2. Cap it and shake it for ten seconds. (Know what maracas are? Like that!)

3. Dump it out.

4. Refill the bottle.

5. Cap it.

6. Don’t play any violent sports with the full bottle.

On The Boat:

I am not going to tell you when to get the “shore” and “middle” water samples. Simply do it when you’ve finished one of your lecture topics and are near to where the bottle says the sample must come from. As you take your samples, have the secretary write down the place an temperature of the sample.

Have everyone follow you out onto the docks and enter through the side gate of the boat. Each person must remove a lifejacket from under the seat and put it on. It must be secured snugly. Stress that while the boat is in motion, they are to remain seated (unless asked to do otherwise) Is everyone set? Good! But first, we must ask some questions:

1.What plants use this lake? Trees along the shore, grass (compare shore grass to the stuff on the hill!), reeds, lily pads, seaweed, elodea, etc..) What color is the lake? (Greenish.) Anyone know what plant causes that? (Algae.) Algae goes nuts at this time of year an grows like mad. We’ll talk about why later on.

2. This is-the-big question! It has never been answered right on the first time! Think long and hard before you answer. What animal uses this lake the most? (Humans.) We use if for: swimming (keeping cool), beauty (that’s why people don’t build houses in gravel pits or garbage dumps), fishing (food), boating (recreation), travel (not so much around here, but Long Lake is used for travel at times) and, two bonus things:

*Water! Our well at Camp Runamok is over forty feet down! If I dug down from the field (where the pump is located) over forty feet, would that put me below the surface of the lake? (Yes.) So where does our well water come from? (The lake.) It filters down through the different layers of soil in the way until it comes out into our well. But, the cool thing is, the dirt actually purifies the water! Do you suppose much chunky stuff can go with the water as it filters down through sand? (No) Like the water cycle, this is one way that nature can purify water.

And the final use for the lake?

*Septic! In the city, if you flush the toilet, where does that water end up? (Sewers.) If we flush the toilet out here do you suppose we just send it all out into the lake? (No.) So where does it go? (Septic tanks.) A septic tank is a large tank underground that all the water that goes down the drains ends up in. Now then, what happens when a septic tank gets old? (It leaks.) If a septic tank leaks, where does the water end up going? (The lake.)

Now then, follow this fun line of thought! Someone in that house over there (pick one at random) has just flushed the toilet. The water has passed down into the septic tank, but there are holes in it, so the water continues its journey by flowing out into the lake. This same water filters down through the sand, into our well and comes back out into the drinking fountain you’ve been drinking from this, week! Cool thought, huh?

Now then, before you swear off water altogether, you have to realize a few things:

  • Dirt purifies water. The sand filters out an ..ahem…chunky stuff and keeps it from reaching the well.
  • There are filters on the well, so you are drinking purified water.
  • There is only so much water on earth. I asked earlier if we added more water to earth all of the time. Do we? (No.) So the water is recycled by nature. The two main ways that nature does that is by using the Water Cycle and by using the ground as a filter. However, all the water we have, is all we’re ever going to have! That water has been on earth for a long time.

Do you realize, and not to gross you out further, that the water inside of you has probably been inside another living thing at one point in time? But, up until five minutes ago, you didn’t care. Why? Because you didn’t know. Does it make a difference that you know now? Not really. But think about what could have happened if hundreds of years ago the water was polluted. Would it be in you now? Probably not. If it was, would you still be alive? Probably not. So, should we work to stop pollution? Probably. :)

We mentioned, at the start of our trip, that the algae is going nuts this time of year. Why? I’ll give you a hint, it has something to do with a special type of visitor that arrives at this time of year and returns again in the spring. (Geese.) Geese flock (pun intended) to Long lake every fall. The water is warm, which plants like, there is plenty of sunshine, those meddling humans aren’t stirring up the water with their boats and now there’s geese! Why are geese important. (They poop in the lake!) Goose poop is a very good fertilizer. That’s why Long Lake turns green in the fall! (Anyone want to take a big swig of lake water right now?) We’ll talk later about what else geese can do for lakes when we get back up to test our samples.

At this point, sadly, you should be docking the boat. After it’s docked, have the students stand up, take their jackets off and place them nicely under the seats and then have them make their way up to the shore. Now, you’re off to:

The Stream:

On your way to the stream, talk about the water cycle. See if the students can remember the steps Quiz students on the three phases of matter. Whatever you have already covered, review with them. (No sense in just wasting time.) Before entering the stream area, warn the students about poison ivy, stinging nettles, and running amok!

All right, here on the shores of the stream, we need to talk about two things:

Biotic Factors: Can anyone guess what “biotic” means? Can anyone think of a high school class that sounds like “biotic”? (Biology. What do you study in biology. (Plants, animals, humans, etc.) What do all those things have in common? (They’re alive. “biology’ ‘s the study of living things, then “biotic”, which sounds almost exactly like biology, must mean simply… (Living things.) Someone name the biotic factors in the stream area. (Trees, minnows, raccoons, etc..) Do all areas around: the world have the same biotic factors? (No. Palm trees are rare around here, and I haven’t seen many Chihuahua’s up at the North Pole.)

Abiotic Factors: If “biotic” means living, then “abiotic” must mean… (Not living. Notice it is “not living” rather than “dead”. Abiotic factors are things which, for the most part, have never lived. Can anyone name an abiotic factor which living things need to survive? There are only four of them. (Sun, air, water and soil.) Does the stream have all four? (Yes. Even though it may be missing top soil, it does have the other three layers of soil: rocks, sand and duff.) How about the forest? (Yes.) The lake? (Yes.) Almost all ecosystems share these four abiotic factors. The exceptions are deep-ocean and underground cave ecosystems where bacteria, rather than plants, are the basis of the food chain. Otherwise, everywhere else you’ll find sun, air, water and soil.

We are now going to explore the stream and look for biotic factors. If you stay behind me will show you raccoon tracks, minnows, water spiders and maybe some other interesting plants and animals. You may only enter the water, however, if you have waterproof shoes on. If not, you must keep your feet dry!

Show them the stream. Feel free to point out the erosion taking place, as it’s nice material to cover at the stream. Let them wander for about four or five minutes, and then call them back together. Get your water sample and temperature and then head back up to Katimivic.

Inside Laboratory:

Once inside, send the boys to use the bathroom on the boys side and the girls on the girls even though the bathroom is currently being used by all boys); this will prevent them from having to go during the next part and will also allow the girls to use the bathroom without having to run all the way to the Lodge and/or Nature Den.

Collect all water samples. Have the students write down the four locations and temperatures in their journals (this is easy for the secretary who is already done…)


Note: I would recommend doing the tests first, and then begin the discussion. Involve the students as much as possible. The can read a thermometer, add pH chemical and read results. I would strongly discourage, students being allowed to assist on the Dissolved Oxygen test, however! As you are talking about the test results, you may wish to begin the next set of experiments. If you wait until you are done with each area before beginning the next, you will run out of time.


Temperature plays a major role in habitats. If the water is too warm, it will release too much oxygen into the air; fish won’t be able to breathe and will die. With the fish dead, there is a possibility of the food web collapsing. Everything must die, adapt or move away. If the water is too cold, some species will not be able to survive. (Side note: catfish and trout enjoy colder temperatures.)

Do we honestly care what the temperature of the tap water is? (No.) Why not? We control the temperature of the tap!)

When we create electricity (by either nuclear or hydroelectric power plants) or run any factory which uses water for a cooling system, we create a unique type of pollution: thermal pollution. Thermal pollution is the heating of water inside the plant. When that water is reintroduced into the environment, it can have a substantial impact! Scientists estimate that a temperature change of 1-4 °F can make a difference in an ecosystem. The problem is, the water leaving a nuclear reactor is usually warmer than the water coming in by a minimum of 12.6 °F! (It can get even hotter, however.

The warmed water holds less oxygen, as mentioned above. Plants grow faster in the warmer water, overpopulate and die off. Bacteria break down the dead plant matter, using up the oxygen in the area as they do so. All aquatic animals die off. The food chain is destroyed. See a problem? The environmentalists did. Realizing this was a problem, these plants and factories have added cooling towers, switched to self-contained ponds and have even gone to recycling the water to avoid any environmental impact.

Does thermal pollution still occur today? Despite these measures, there still is thermal pollution continuing, though not in such a damaging way as when it was first discovered. We are making progress…

Note: The following are nuclear reactors which supply Michigan with power:

  • (Name) (Location)
  • (Name) (Location)
  • (Name) (Location)

(All information courtesy of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1997)


pH is the measure of how much acid or base is in a substance. The scale for measuring acid or a base runs from 0 to 14. A 0 is a strong acid, while a 14 is a strong base. However, there is something really cool about acids and bases: they are opposites, just like hot and cold are opposites of temperature. If you take hot water and cold water and mix them together, you get warm water. If you take an acid with a pH of 0 and a base with a pH of 14 and mix them together, they cancel each other out and you are left with pure water! (Note: I had a chemistry professor take Sulfuric Acid, dump it on a substance which melted on contact with the acid) to prove how strong the acid was; take a Lye, it on a substance (which also melted) to show how strong it was; mixed them together, an then drank them! They canceled each other out and left nothing but pure water. Don’t try this, though!) Pure water has a pH of seven, which is considered perfect.

Do you suppose you want acids or bases in water? (No.) Do you suppose it happens? (Yes) Can anyone give me an example of a pollution that talks about acids and bases? (Yes. Acid rain.) Correct! Acid rain removes nutrients from the soil and creates a chemical imbalance in an ecosystem.

How do you get acid rain? Most rain water is a mild acid (pH 6.3) naturally. However, air pollution can create stronger acids. How strong? Wait and see! When we run cars or burn fuels, we give off three types of gasses which lead to acid rain.

The first gas given off by burning fuels is carbon dioxide (C02). Carbon dioxide is the same stuff you breathe out! This gas is used by plants during photosynthesis. When it rises up into the atmosphere, it joins with rain water and forms carbonic acid, a very weak acid. Carbonic acid is interesting, though, because of the number of people who drink it every day! How many of you drank carbonic acid this past weekend before coming to camp? If you had a pop or carbonated water, you drank carbonic acid. Did it hurt you? (No.) Does it hurt plants or animals? (Not really.) Carbonic acid has one main love, though: marble. In Chicago, there are a number of buildings made of marble. When it rains in Chicago, the rain is mostly carbonic acid. In Chicago, when it rains, you can literally go outside and watch the marble buildings falling apart. Does it happen suddenly? (No.) However, you can see a white foam running down these buildings; that’s the marble being washed away. In Chicago, they put tarps over the roofs of some building to protect them!

The second gas given off by burning fuels in nitrous oxide (NO2). Nitrous oxide is a very weak acid. It doesn’t do much in nature, doesn’t eat rock like carbonic acid, and doesn’t have much of an impact on nature. All it does is weaken plants and it does mild damage to the soil’s ability to neutralize other types of pollution. Fun fact, though: nitrous oxide is something that some of you have had before. It’s common name is “laughing gas” According to 1994 statistics, the Midwest “dumps” approximately 24,000,000 tons of nitrogen oxides into the air every year!

The third gas given off by burning fuels is sulfur dioxide (S02). Sulfur dioxide is the really nasty stuff! When it falls, it hurts plants and animals and can do huge amounts of damage to the environment if the pollution causing it is bad enough. According to 1994 statistics, the Midwest “dumps” approximately 30,000,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each year!

Where does acid rain fall in America? (Hold up the acid rain map.) Can anyone tell me what state doesn’t have acid rain falling in it? (There are none.) Let’s look at Michigan. See the large mark showing acid rain falling on the eastern side? What’s on the eastern side of Michigan that creates a lot of pollution? (Detroit.) You got it! Now, follow this, the black splotches continue across the state as we go west. They represent Ann Arbor, Lansing, Battle Creek and Grand Rapids. Where does acid rain fall in Michigan? (Over big cities.) Why? (Because they create the most pollution!)

How strong is the acid that is falling? Read number off of map. Are these serious numbers? Not really. The fact that it is slightly acidic is a problem we should be concerned about, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to melt when we walk out in the rain! But where is the worst place for acid rain? Read “Humans are Stupid” moment #4 for the answer!

By the way, fun fact for you all! A pH of 4.7 or less is deadly to most species of fish, very damaging to the environment. California, the leading state with environmental protestors leads the way in acid rain! Even more fun, the city of Los Angeles has to give fog warnings! When the fog rolls into Los Angeles, there is so much pollution in the air that it has a pH of 3!!! You can sit around and watch the cars rust! People with breathing problems are encouraged not to go outside with spare oxygen tanks for fear they will die! What a great place to live, huh? California….


Hardness is the measurement of how many dissolved minerals (Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, etc..) are in the water. Almost all water has minerals in it (dissolves anything over time, remember?). Though it does not directly affect flora and fauna, its presence acts as a buffer if toxic chemicals are introduced. Most water falls into a range of 100 to 200 ppm (parts per million) of hardness. The scale goes down to 0 ppm, which is pure water. But, is 0 ppm a realistic number? (No.) Why not? (Because water is always dissolving something!) On the scale, 0 to 100 ppm represents soft water, something accomplished with a water softener. Does this occur in nature? (No, silly! I just said it needs a water softener.) Anything over 200 ppm is defined as hard water, while anything over 400 ppm is defined as “very hard” and includes the note that you may wish to soften the water. Can we soften a river, lake or stream? (No. Too much area.) If the water gets “too hard” it isn’t dangerous to drink, it just tastes nasty, becomes more cloudy and looks gross! Take a look at the water in the bottle prop. This is water, not softened, taken from the tap at the house. One week the water softener died, and we were forced to drink this, bathe in it and cook with it. It didn’t kill us, though it wasn’t the happiest tasting stuff.

Dissolved Oxygen:

Dissolved oxygen tells us how much oxygen (02) there is in the water. Why is this important? (The fish need the oxygen to breathe.) A normal range of oxygen within a river or a lake would be about 6-8 ppm. Ppm stands for parts per million. In other words, for every million gallons of water in a lake, the normal amount of oxygen would be 6-8 gallons. If the dissolved oxygen drops below 3 ppm, life begins to become scarce. Can there ever be too much oxygen in the water? No. Any time there is more oxygen than the water can handle, it is released from the water and enters the atmosphere. Can there ever be too little oxygen? Yes! This is an indicator that something is wrong, and usually means that there are large amounts of bacteria and, because there is a lot of bacteria, there probably are large amounts of dead matter in the water that the bacteria is feeding on.

Fun fact: a lot of the oxygen we breathe comes from oxygen escaping from the oceans!

Do we care what the oxygen level of our well is? (No.) Why not? (Nothing should be living down there!)


You have now tested all of your samples, recorded your results and basically wasted your entire breath trying to explain all of this information to the students. Now then, we get to the fun. Have the students stand up, stretch, do a group scream, and then get going again with:


This is simple as you only have to read off the pollution information chart. Wherever applicable, discuss the remaining “Humans are Stupid” moments. This can be done very quickly, however, as the information is not required learning for the schools, but simply aids the understanding of the students based on the topics already covered.

Environmental Education – Teaching Outline

Discussion Info (see above): Time: 10 – 5 minutes

1. What is an Environmental Engineer?

2. Why is water important? (Characteristics of water).

3. The Water Cycle.

4. Biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem.

5. Pollution and contaminants.

Water On Earth (see Journal page): Time: 15 -20 minutes

Pontoon Boat Ride: Time: 30 minutes

1. Water uses.

2. Water cycle review.

Stream Stomp: Time: 20 minutes

Water Testing /-Pollution Discussion: Time: 45 minutes

Wrap-up: Time 15 minutes

Note: There is a lot of material in this class, so it is important not to be sidetracked! If necessary, keep the class after to finish the discussion! They need to have this information!

Vocabulary (Required Knowledge):

Condensation: water vapor in the atmosphere cools and joins together, forming droplets of water or ice; the second step to a water cycle

Evaporation: water absorbs heat energy from the sun, causing some of it to turn into water vapor and rise up into the atmosphere; the first step to a water cycle

Precipitation: water droplets or ice crystals fall from clouds back down o e ground, completing the cycle; the third step to a water cycle

Recycle: to create a new item out of the materials of another item

Reduce: to use less materials in making items

Reuse: to use something for another purpose after it has been used once

Run-off: water from precipitation which is not absorbed into the ground and which flows over the surface, eventually entering nearby streams, rivers, lakes and oceans

Three States of Matter: solid, liquid and gas; water is the only naturally occurring substance that we know of which exists in all three forms in earth’s normal temperature range

The Water Cycle: the name given to the way in which nature purifies water; the three steps to a Water Cycle include: evaporation, condensation and precipitation.