ACM Pedagogic Resources > ACM/FaCE > Projects > Outdoor Classroom > Activities > The Effects of Storm Water Management on Water Quality

The Effects of Storm Water Management on Water Quality

Jeff Clark, Lawrence University


This lab follows the skill development lab "Gathering Point Data using a GPS and ArcGIS 9.3." The topic is storm water detention ponds, which are designed in part to improve water quality. Using in-situ and wet lab techniques, students will map how water quality changes from the stream through the ponds. The outcome is report assessing the effectiveness of the detention ponds. The report includes maps of how water quality parameters change spatially.

Learning Goals

The content goal is to learn how water quality parameters such as temperature, DO, nitrate, TDS, pH and phosphate change from a running stream to relatively stagnant ponds. Students will also learn how to calibrate and use a colorimeter.
In the course of analyzing spatial trends in the data, students are asked to explain their observations (for example – why does the temperature change when the stream water enters the pond?). They will ultimately synthesize their observations into a written report which is integrated with the maps. Students are also required to develop a conceptual model of how nutrients (N and P) move into, through, and out of the ponds.
Students will learn how to collect water samples and how to perform in-situ measurements as wells as some wet chemistry and the use of a colorimeter. For this lab they work in groups of 3-4 with each team member responsible for analysis of at least one water quality parameter. They also get experience writing a scientific report. Here I focus particularly on how figures and prose must be mutually supportive.
The use of GIS and GPS in the field allows students to easily mark the sample locations and to add the in-situ data in the field. They can begin to see trends while in the field and this allows them to make other observations (perhaps on surrounding vegetation) that might explain trends or anomalies.

Context for Use

Integrates mobile technologies into an introductory level course: Introduction to Environmental Science

Skills that students should have mastered before beginning this activity:

Students need some knowledge of ArcGIS 9.3 and how to interface with a GPS receiver. They should also know how to collect and classify point data in ArcGIS.

Description and Teaching Materials


The group lab report is graded by the instructor. The focus is on use of data and other observations in support of conclusions. As this is the first formal lab report feedback on format and style is provided. Each individual is responsible for one or more water quality parameter maps. These make up a portion of the grade assigned to the individual. Since this is the second set of maps made, more focus is put on how the data are presented.

References and Resources

Supporting data

Underlying aerial photographs were gleaned from the City of Appleton.


The prelab background on the instrumentation and water quality protocols can be found in Vernier's water quality handbook. See