InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 3: Social Science of Water
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This page first made public: Mar 31, 2017

Section 3: Social Science of Water

Summary and Overview

This section comprises four modules that are spread over five weeks of the semester. These modules present an overview of the water supply challenges that face society now and in the future, and explore possible solutions to those challenges.

Module 7 (What Is in Your Water) delves into the role of water as a "universal solvent" and the problems that its ability to dissolve and transport nearly any potential chemical pollutant present for drinking water quality, water quality in natural environments, and agricultural activities. The module offers several short "case studies" whereby human activities alter the chemistry of surface—and/or groundwater, creating toxic conditions for humans and wildlife (e.g., so-called "dead zones" in coastal regions), and asks students to consider possible solutions to these and other water quality problems through regulation or process changes.

Module 8 (Cities in Peril: Dealing with Water Scarcity, Part 1: History and Current Approaches, and Part 2: Future Growth and Climate Change) covers two weeks of the course and focuses on the problems of major population centers with respect to acquiring clean drinking water. Understandably, the problem is more extreme for large cities located in arid regions (e.g., Los Angeles, CA, or Las Vegas, NV), but is not governed simply by water availability. Infrastructure construction and maintenance is another related issue. There is also strong pressure on freshwater availability from prolonged drought, which could result from global climate change. The second part of Module 8 introduces climate change as a factor, what we understand now, and how well we can predict future changes.

In Module 9 (Water and Politics) we entertain the human penchant for laying claim to water resources, and the need to fairly "share" resources in cases where rivers (or groundwater basins) cross international borders (or in some cases, rivers that are the basis for international borders), while also protecting water quality. Are old treaties adequate as governments change and populations grow? Will we experience further "water wars"? The Nile River in northeast Africa and the Colorado River in western North America are good examples.

Module 10 (Solving the Water Crisis? Potential Solutions to Problems with Water Scarcity and Quality) is the culmination of the course, bringing together diplomacy, economics, and technology to explore potential solutions for freshwater shortages. Some of these solutions, although elegant and high-tech, will not be feasible where funding and energy are in short supply. Students will evaluate these possibilities and recommend a path forward.

Strengths of the Section

This section presents various aspects of the way society is dealing with the threats of poor water quality and future shortages that result from climate change. It presents various angles:

  • The first module in this section discusses issues with water quality and how they are monitored.
  • The second module in this section discusses cities in the western United States that are dealing with water shortage.
  • The third module in this section illustrates how climate change will threaten underdeveloped countries as well as arid parts of the developed world.
  • The final module in this section describes how public policy will play a role in the management of water resources in the future.

Context

This section serves as the five-week finale of the semester-long course Water Science and Society. Although it is intended for use as a component of the full online or blended course, it could potentially be used on its own as a component of a different course and its modules can be used individually.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of Section 3 students will be able to:

  • describe the two-way relationship between water resources and human society;
  • explain the distribution and dynamics of water at the surface and in the subsurface of Earth;
  • synthesize data and information from multiple reliable sources;
  • interpret graphical representations of scientific data;
  • identify strategies and best practices to decrease water stress and increase water quality;
  • thoughtfully evaluate information and policy statements regarding water resources;
  • communicate scientific information in terms that can be understood by the general public;
  • predict how availability of and demand for water resources is expected to change over the next 50 years.

Section Outline

Assessment

See individual Modules for description of assessments.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. 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 »