GETSI Teaching Materials >Eyes on the Hydrosphere: Tracking Water Resources > Unit 3: What's in YOUR watershed?
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Unit 3: What's in YOUR watershed?

Jonathan Harvey, Fort Lewis College and Becca Walker, Mt San Antonio College


In this unit, students investigate water resources of their own area or another area of personal interest, which typically gets them very excited. They apply their knowledge from Units 1 and 2 to identify the water reservoirs which are most important to their local community, the transport pathways responsible for delivering water to those reservoirs, and the relevant and available techniques for monitoring those resources. They also consider interests by different stakeholder groups in relation to water resources and how these potentially competing interests could influence water policy, infrastructure, and distribution in a community.

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Learning Goals

Unit 3 Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Describe the water reservoirs and transport pathways critical to their local watershed / municipality / economy and justify the observation techniques best-suited for tracking those resources.
  • Distinguish aligned and competing interests of different stakeholder groups with respect to water resources and propose ideas for how stakeholder interest influences water policy, infrastructure, and use.

Unit 3 Teaching Outcomes

  • Cognitive: Promote a multi-faceted analysis of students' local watershed and a consideration of the impacts of short and long-term environmental factors and anthropogenic activities on the watershed.
  • Behavioral: Foster student skills in accessing local/regional traditional and geodetic datasets and interpreting time-series.
  • Affective: Provide an opportunity for students to consider perspectives from different stakeholders with respect to water utilization, distribution policy, and legislation.

Context for Use

The content in Unit 3 is appropriate for introductory geology, environmental geoscience, natural hazards, climate science, and other geoscience courses; sophomore-level courses in which geodesy and/or hydrology concepts are introduced; or non-geoscience courses where water resources and/or the nature and methods of science are being investigated. Unit 3 activities can easily be adapted to serve small or large-enrollment classes and can be executed during class as an interactive lecture/discussion or in-class activity in which students work in small groups (Unit 3.1) or as a lab exercise, presentation or project (Unit 3.2.) Alternatively, Unit 3 activities can be incorporated into a 2-3 week investigation of the use of geodesy and other methods to study water resources using the entire Water Hazards and Resources module. If the entire module will not be utilized, we recommend pairing Unit 3 with Unit 2: Monitoring Surface and Groundwater Supply in the Western US to allow students to use their experience with reading hydrologic time-series data, interpreting seasonal and long-term trends in hydrologic data, and considering the impacts of water availability on societies in various climatic regimes to consider the role of water resources in their own geographic area.

Description and Teaching Materials

Unit 3.1 Stakeholder analysis

Students choose (or are assigned) a stakeholder role to research in preparation for in-class discussion about how different interest groups and their water needs/philosophies influence water utilization, distribution, policy, and legislation. It can help to emphasize to students that stakeholder analyses are important in a wide range of jobs, from environmental assessments to marketing. The implementation of this part of the preparation exercise is at the discretion of the instructor. Choices must be made about whether to engineer the stakeholder preparation to a specific geographic area (the local community, a specific location outside of the community that has been addressed in the class previously in some other context, etc.) or a general stakeholder analysis. Instructors could choose to simply assign students a stakeholder role and leave the rest of the research to them, or alternatively could provide each student with resources specific to the stakeholder role that they have been assigned. There are a tremendous number of stakeholder groups that could be used in a water resources analysis, but the desired number for implementation depends on class size and time constraints. Some ones to consider are:

  • residential consumers
  • ranching, farming, and agricultural sector
  • conservation/environmental groups
  • industrial and power generation sector

Some resources related to water stakeholders, are listed in the Resources section below.

We suggest the following class format:

  1. Each student arrives at class with the Unit 3.1 Student preparation exercise for stakeholder analysis (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 203kB Mar14 19) exercise completed
  2. Students begin in homogenous stakeholder groups (i.e., everyone in the group represents the agricultural sector) and discuss their findings for their stakeholder group. At this stage, they create a group summary for their stakeholder group. This could either be done as a presentation slide or a single sheet of paper and should include:
    • How much water resources impact the stakeholder and why
    • Explanation of how much influence the stakeholder group has over water use and management
    • What about water is most important to the stakeholder
    • How the stakeholder could contribute to water resource issues
    • How the stakeholder could conceivably interfere with water resource issues
  3. Next, students from different stakeholder groups form teams such that there is at least one of each different type of stakeholder. Each person provides a ~2 minute stakeholder analysis summary, and together, and using specific evidence from their summaries, they discuss the questions below within their teams. Some/all of these questions could also be incorporated into a whole-group report out and/or a wall tour. A wall tour is an interactive format for discussions of controversial topics. In a wall tour, four signs are placed in different parts of the classroom--strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. A statement is projected for everyone to read, and each student moves to the sign that best expresses one's opinion about the topic. Selected students at each sign are asked to provide a justification for their opinion on the topic, and students have the opportunity to move fluidly between signs if they change their minds during the discussion.

A somewhat more advanced version of this stakeholder analysis can be found in the majors-level module Measuring Water Resources with GPS, Gravity, and Traditional Methods - Unit 1: Introduction to the hydrologic cycle and stakeholder analysis.

Potential student discussion questions for Unit 3.1:

  1. Name three important water user-groups in your area, as well as the water resource(s) they draw most heavily upon.
  2. Which water resource(s) near your own community are MOST sensitive to over-consumption and/or changing supply due to climate change?
  3. Which water-user-stakeholder appears to be MOST sensitive to water scarcity problems in your area?
  4. If water resources became stressed in your area, which stakeholder group could/should be compelled to give up their water rights FIRST? Why?
  5. How might human water consumption impact the hydrologic cycle and water storage on land?
  6. Who should pay for the cost of installing and maintaining networks that monitor water storage in snow, aquifers, rivers, and lakes?

Potential wall tour statements for Unit 3.1:

  1. Whichever group uses the most water should pay for the cost of installing and maintaining water monitoring equipment.
  2. The more water a particular individual or group uses, the more the unit price of the water should cost.
  3. There should be a cap on water use for certain groups such that once the maximum water allotment is used in a particular (week/month/year), the group must pay other groups for a share of their water allotment.
  4. If water is scarce, individual households and non-profit organizations should receive priority over the for-profit sector in receiving water.
  5. Regardless of where you live, your income, or how much water you use, everyone should be equally financially responsible for the consequences of water monitoring and water scarcity.
  6. No additional construction should be allowed in areas facing water shortages.

Unit 3.2 Local watershed

Students consider which water reservoirs and pathways are most critical to their local watershed, and what resources are available for monitoring water storage in those reservoirs. They then answer a series of guiding questions as they consider how well instrumented their local water reservoir(s) are, and whether they are subject to inter-annual or long-term scarcity issues. Students typically get really exciting about this exercise because of its personal connection (at least once they get over being intimidated about getting their own data).

The Guiding Questions are included in this document: Unit 3.2 - student exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 206kB Jan15 19)

This presentation provides instructions for accessing GRACE, vertical GPS, reflection GPS, SNOTEL surface water, and groundwater data for one's region and some guidance on interpreting time-series for these traditional and geodetic techniques.
Unit 3.2: Accessing hydrologic data for your region (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7MB Nov3 20)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Unit 3.1 Stakeholder analysis activity:

  • Students will likely need help understanding their stakeholder. Many locations have complicated water infrastructure and water management, and sorting out a particular stakeholder's role and influence is not always intuitive. Students should have ample time to research their respective stakeholder roles and will probably need some guidance. For example, introductory-level students would likely need assistance determining who controls the headgates on surface water diversion from rivers.
  • Some students may need encouragement to think more deeply about their stakeholder role. The in-class discussion will be enriched if students have dedicated some time to researching their stakeholder role and the unique water issues in the area. For example, playing the stakeholder role of a farmer will look different in the Midwest than in Central California. It may be useful to have students remind themselves (or read for the first time) about water issues in different areas of the country by reading/re-reading some of the supporting articles from Unit 1 and Unit 2.
  • The stakeholder analysis matrix could be simplified by reducing the number of fields for students to populate.

Unit 3.2 Local watershed activity:

  • Students will need guidance in choosing an appropriately sized study area (i.e., they should only choose a portion of the Colorado River, not the entire Colorado River.)
  • USGS Stream gage long-term datasets are extremely slow to load unless you change to "DAILY DATA" on top. These instructions are included in the PowerPoint slides on accessing stream gage data, but many students missed that in the instructions and consequently waited ~20 minutes for a USGS hydrograph to load.
  • Some students were overwhelmed by the PowerPoint tutorial on accessing and interpreting the datasets. It could be useful to go through one of the 6 methods with students during class while referencing the PowerPoint tutorial, then having students try accessing data for a different method on their own. Depending on your time constraints, you could opt to have each student create datasets for only 2-3 of the methods, then have them show their data to a classmate who created datasets for a different 2-3 methods, similar to an extended think-pair-share exercise.
  • Students may have a difficult time interpreting some of the time-series. This could be because of the spatial resolution of a particular dataset; poor/absent coverage in the watershed that they are studying; ambiguities in the data (for example, long-term subsidence in a vertical GPS time-series could be interpreted in more than one way); neglecting to consider the impact of both natural and anthropogenic phenomena on a particular watershed; etc. Whether students are working on the local watershed activity during class or outside of class, it might be helpful to check in with students periodically and have them briefly explain their interpretation of a particular time-series.


Formative assessment:

The stakeholder discussion questions, wall tour questions, and student report-outs can be informally assessed by verbal report-outs and/or having students record their opinions and the evidence to support their answers.

Summative assessment:

The student products for exercise 3.2 is the summative assessment for the module. A sample rubric is provided here.

References and Resources

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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »