Potable Water Lessons Link Amherst to Puerto Rico and Beyond

With funding from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and in cooperation with UMass Amherst’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment presented lessons on clean water issues to all of the science students of Amherst Regional Middle School in March and April. 7th and 8th graders both received hands-on lessons in class and 8th grade students concluded their lessons with an all-day field trip on water.

The 7th grade students focused on water contamination issues. They discussed what makes potable water potable, what organisms make it water unsafe to drink, and what type of water treatments make for safe drinking water. Students worked together to create slide presentations on water treatments and tried their treatments on samples of local pond water.

8th grade students explored the real-world issue of providing potable water to communities in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They created solar stills for purifying water and watched as heat lamps distilled salty, green water into pure safe to drink water. They then discussed the environmental impact of disposable plastic water bottles.

The 8th grade fieldtrip took students to four different sites that are connected to water usage in the Valley. Students explored the UMass E2 lab where they learned about new water treatment technology. They visited the Water Resource Recovery Facility to learn how wastewater is treated before being put back into the environment. They hiked around the Atkins Reservoir to see where most of their drinking water comes from. They took a tour of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s new Living Building to see captures, treats and uses all the rainwater that falls on its site for building and landscape needs.

The Hitchcock Center’s Living Building design mimics how mountains and valleys collect and filter water, without the use of added chemicals. 8th grade students observed the steps involved in the Hitchcock Center’s drinking water treatment and learned how its revolutionary net zero water system is radically changing the way we think about water.

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