Field Notes

March 14, 2019

All the Water We Can’t See

By Sarah Baier, education specialist at the Lilly Center

March 10-16 is National Groundwater Awareness Week. This year’s theme, Think, is designed to urge each of us to consider various ways we can protect one of our most valuable natural resources.

I really love this theme because I’m purposely trying to infuse mindfulness into my life these days. To start, I had to Think about what groundwater is. Part of why I love teaching kids is that I’m obliged to think about and explain complex concepts in simple terms. So…for a working definition, I came up with the idea that the water we can’t see is groundwater and the water we can see is surface water. Everyone can grasp that concept!

Groundwater is found under our feet, under the soil, down in the cracks between the rocks – yes, we’re walking on water! And no, it isn’t flowing in rivers under there. It’s held in big and little spaces in the rocks called aquifers, just waiting to be brought to the surface for us to use. The main thing to remember is that groundwater is limited. It’s so important that we don’t let groundwater become depleted or polluted. We can’t make more!

Let’s try a little activity to illustrate. Grab your kids, a sponge, a bowl, a glass of clean water and some soy sauce. Put the sponge in the bowl and slowly pour the clean water over the sponge until it is just saturated. Your sponge has just become an aquifer and the water it is holding is the groundwater! Now wring out the sponge. This is your water supply. Does it look clean enough to drink? Now your aquifer is empty. How will it refill? How long will that take?

Empty the bowl and put your sponge back in it. Sprinkle the sponge with some soy sauce – this represents pollutants like oil or excess fertilizers in the environment. Pour more water over your sponge to recharge your aquifer. Do you think your water is still clean? Wring out the sponge to see what happened. Would you want to drink this water? Think about how important it is to conserve groundwater and keep it clean. Ask the kids what they Think.

To help me really Think about the water I use every day, I kept a water use journal for a few days. Besides realizing that I drink way too much coffee, I caught myself running small loads of laundry and letting my shower water run way too long getting warm. These are some super simple things that I need to change. How about you? What will you find when you Think about it?