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Groundwater models teach all ages about the water cycle, and how water and pollutants travel

Using a watershed or groundwater model simulator makes it easier to teach about water and geology beneath our feet.

A look undergroundSince everyone lives in a watershed, or an area of land that drains to a common body of water, it seems as though everyone should understand that impacts in one part of the watershed can affect areas far away from that location. The water that you can see above ground in the form of surface water, the water below ground in the form of groundwater or the water that fills the cracks and spaces between rock and soil particles, are connected through the water cycle. Water can move contamination on the ground or in surface water into the underlying groundwater supply.

In general, we don’t often think about things we cannot see that happens in the soil and rock below our feet. One great way to learn about these important concepts in an extremely visual way is through the use of a water cycle or groundwater model simulator.

These models are a great visual way to teach concepts such as water cycle, watershed, water table, groundwater, aquifer, saturated and unsaturated zones, glacial drift, bedrock, soil types and the specifics of which can influence whether water resources are protected or at risk for contamination, stormwater runoff, municipal and onsite wastewater treatment, point- and non-point source pollution, and erosion. In addition, the model can illustrate lawn and garden practices that can impact water quality as well as best management practices that can help protect Michigan’s water resources.

There are several ways an Educator can obtain or access these models:

  • Interact with an online version of this model at the Michigan Water Stewardship Program website. Included is an overview section which reviews the water cycle and how water moves through the environment. The “virtual” model gives a number of different scenarios. The user is asked to make a choice, and can then view a visual depiction of the environmental impact of this behavior on the virtual model. The web site also includes a lesson plan that explains how to use a groundwater model, gives helpful background information, suggested activity ideas and discussion questions.
  • Find someone who has a groundwater model. Depending on your area, groundwater models may be available through your school district. There may also be individuals or organization in your area who offer programs including a demonstration using the groundwater model , for example, Michigan State University Extension offices, Conservation Districts, nature centers, etc.
  • Purchase a model if you have funds available. Because groundwater models can be quite expensive, a good option for educators on a budget is to search online for instructions on how to build a groundwater model yourself. If you have Earth Day events or Water Festivals in your area, there is often a presenter who demonstrates the groundwater model in their program.

For additional information about groundwater, print or electronic copies of the MSU Extension Bulletin (WQ54), “Groundwater: Everyone’s Resource, Everyone’s Responsibility.” Home*A*Syst Guide (WQ51) also helps assess your potential for environmental risks in and around your home. Both are available at no cost through the MSU Extension Bookstore or electronically from the MSU Extension Oakland County website.

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