Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Virtual Workshop 2014 > Course Descriptions > California Water (GEOL 370)

California Water (GEOL 370)

Jason Gurdak
San Francisco State University


Human interaction with the hydrologic environment. Science and politics of water issues facing California. Hydrologic cycle, floods, droughts, groundwater, contamination. Water needs of cities, farms, ecosystems. Effects of climate change on water resources. Classwork, 3 units. Designed for non-science majors.

Course URL: [Not available yet.]
Course Type:
Entry Level:Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an upper-division, general education (non-majors) course. It also is one of 4 required courses in the Hydrology Emphasis of our revised BS degree in Earth and Climate Sciences.

This course will be taught for the first time in Fall 2014.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses?

If students take a non-majors course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course?

Course Content:

The overall course design will use a case-study approach to help students better explore the issues surrounding water in California and to a lesser extent in other part of the U.S. and abroad. Each week a new case study or local water issue will be highlighted and explored. Through lecture material, in-class discussion and small group activities, and outside reading and writing assignments, student will better understand the natural, scientific processes that shape the current water-resource problems and challenges across San Francisco and California. Students will examine and better understand the science that supports (or doesn't support) current water policy and management decisions, which will help make them a more informed citizen and engaged voter. Students will better appreciate the history and scope of water resources problems and challenges in California and how California is a global leader is solving a number of these challenges. Students will gain a better appreciation for how water touches nearly all aspects of modern life, and will better appreciate the breadth of water-related professions in California and beyond.

Course Goals:

  • Students will be able to apply scientific methods of inquiry and analysis (such as hypothesis testing, systematic and reproducible observations, and the analysis of measurable data) to the physical universe, including either living or nonliving systems.
  • Students will be able to articulate how scientific theories and practices come to be accepted, contested, changed, or abandoned by the scientific community.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information and claims on the basis of their source and the methods used to generate the information or claims.
  • Students will be able to construct coherent and sound arguments with support from multiple sources, including library resources and proper citations, to support or contest a scientific theory.
  • Students will be able to analyze the connection of scientific research, discoveries and applications to personal, social or ethical issues in the modern world.
  • Students will be able to describe interconnections among humans and other aspects of the natural world, as well as their responsibility to work toward the sustainability of the natural environment, and as a result, increase the health and well-being of human societies.
  • Students will be able to discern and analyze ethical issues, evaluate decisions and actions that have ethical implications, and reflect seriously on the motives of their conduct in the personal and public arenas.
  • Students will be able to identify and analyze aspects of life in the San Francisco Bay Area and/or California that contribute to the region's distinctive character, appreciate the complex set of forces that have shaped opportunities for and challenges to the region's inhabitants, and recognize how they can seize on opportunities to improve the quality of life in the region.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate how their personal activities impact the environment, and as a result affect the health and well-being of themselves and society analyze how the well-being of human society is dependent on ecosystems and the materials and services they provide to humanity.
  • Students will be able to identify the most serious environmental problems related to water resources globally and locally and explain their underlying causes and possible consequences
What are the main features of the course that help students achieve these goals?
The students will achieve the learning goals from the course format and through a number of in-class discussion and take-home writing assignments.


Using responses from clickers, in-class minute papers, take home writing assignments, in-class discussion, mid-term exam, and final exam.


Teaching Materials:

Introduction to Water Resources and Environmental Issues
Instructors are familiar with the text and covers many of the topics we hope to cover in the course at an appropriate level.

References and Notes:

Key Reading Resources:
Select readings from:
Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water, by M. Reisner, Penguin, 2nd Ed. 1996.

California Rivers and Streams: the conflict between fluvial process and land use, by J. Mount, Univ. of California Press, 1995.