There sure is a lot to think about next time you pour a glass of water! How can you know what is in your water? And if there is something in your water that shouldn't be there, how can you address it? That is the point of this Green Heart STEM Challenge! To figure out if there is a problem with your or your neighbors' water resources, and to design a solution to make a positive change.

To clarify, we have talked a lot about drinking water, but the water most important to your community could be surface water for fishing or swimming. It could be the SOURCE of your drinking water -- an aquifer or a nearby river or lake. 

Get to Know Your Water

To get started with the Challenge, let's start by getting to know your water. Using the sheet provided here, let's do some research on the water that your community depends on.  

Your Community & Water Use

Before you can focus on water resources in your community, you need to define your community! Where do you live? Who lives in your community? What are the most significant uses of water in your community?


As a team, decide how you want to define your community.  Where is it located? Who lives here? What are the main uses of water in your community that you want to focus on? 

Your Watershed

To understand your water and what might be affecting the health of your water, you first need to know what watershed or basin you live in. Remember, your watershed is the land that surrounds your water bodies. What happens on that land will likely affect what substances are in your water, and will give you a clue about what you should be looking for. Watersheds or drainage basins are defined at different scales or sizes -- in other words, a large watershed contains several smaller watersheds. 


Click on the the map or other tools linked here, or use a different tool to figure out what watershed you are in.
What water body(-ies) does your community drain into?

Land use land cover (LULC) maps from Esri. Click to Explore

Land Uses in Your Watershed

How is land being used in your community and watershed? Answering this question will give us clues about potential substances that might be affecting your community's water supply. For example, if your watershed contains a lot of farmland, we might want to check for nutrient pollution from animal manure and fertilizers and potential chemical pollution from pesticides. If your watershed is more urban, we might want to keep an eye out for more toxic pollutants, water temperature, etc.


Click on the the map here to explore land use in your community. How is land being used? What clues might this give us about your water?

Your Drinking Water Source

Regardless of how you defined your community's primary use of water, it's also important to know where your drinking water comes from. Some communities get their water from a public utility where water is treated at a plant and distributed to houses. Those utilities might draw water from a well or from a nearby water body. Other communities rely on wells to get drinking water directly from the ground. See if you can figure out where you get your drinking water from. 



Where does your community get its drinking water? Finding the source may take some detective work. You may need to do some primary research by asking community members or local authorities.

Known Problems with Your Water

Has your community experienced problems with water quality or contamination in the past? Understanding what has happened over time may also provide some clues about current problems. But not all problems are known! For example, the problems with 'forever chemicals' are still being understood. But knowing what has happened in the past will help us understand challenges today.


Have there been problems with water quality in your community before? Do some research using news sources, public information sources like the EPA site above, local government documents to identify previous issues and what was done to address the problem.

Environmental Injustice?

Asking the question of whether environmental injustices are present can be a little more difficult because it requires looking at all of the pieces together and asking questions like:

  • Who was most affected by this problem? 
  • Were the people most affected aware of the situation?
  • Did the people most affected have power in the situation?
  • Have the people who were most affected historically been discriminated against? Is this incident part of a pattern?

There are some tools we can use to identify where incidents of environmental injustices are likely to occur based on the income level and racial make-up of a community, and whether they are located close to environmental hazards like factories, contaminated waterbodies, old mines and landfills, etc. 

image by Shannon Nobles
image by Shannon Nobles


Are there other factors in your region (i.e. mines, old industrial sites, failing infrastructure) that could affect your community's access to clean and healthy water? What communities are more likely to be impacted by those issues? Why? 

Your Focus

Based on everything you have researched about your community's water so far, is there a particular issue, problem, or potential threat to your water that your team wants to focus on? 

But what really is in our water?