Western water law project

Todd Rayne
Hamilton College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Apr 13, 2006


This activity allows students to use role-playing to learn about the connection between surface water and ground water.

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Introductory hydrogeology course. This could also work in a mid-level environmental geology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Continuity, ground-water discharge, recharge, hydrographs

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is the culmination of a unit on surface water.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

- The connection between surface water and groundwater
- An introduction to western U.S. water law
- Irrigation methods and their effects on water occurrence

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical evaluation of written information, evaluating graphical information

Other skills goals for this activity

Oral presentations, working in groups, critical thinking

Description of the activity/assignment

Students read one of two articles (the "cases") from High Country News, a bi-weekly periodical that covers environmental issues in the western North America. Both articles are about situations in which the use of ground water by irrigators has decreased the amount of surface water available for users with senior water rights. I divide the class into groups representing 1) surface water users, 2) ground water users, and 3) a regulatory board. The groups read and discuss each article and prepare a case to present to the regulatory board. After each group has prepared their case, we gather for a hearing, where groups of consultants present their cases and are questioned by the regulatory board. At the end, the regulatory board makes "decisions" on each "case". The decision isn't the focus of the exercise. The most valuable part is the subsequent discussion about the cases and the common issues in them that get the students to recognize the connection between surface and ground water and how humans have come up with confusing and sometimes scientifically conflicting sets of laws to regulate each.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I read their written responses to a series of questions. In addition, I evaluate their participation in group discussions and oral presentation using a simple rubric.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

High Country News Archives https://www.hcn.org/issues

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