Augustana College Students Discover the Real World of Tap Water
By Dr. Jennifer Burnham, Associate Professor of Geography
Augustana College, Rock Island, IL
As a part of my environmental geology (GEOL 115) class at Augustana College, I structure my class around some "real world” questions such as: "What happens to my waste when I flush the toilet?” "Where does my garbage go after I drop it off at the curb?” and "Where does my water come from?” Like most Americans, my undergraduate students have a very poor understanding of how much water they use on a daily basis, where it comes from, and what goes into producing a safe public drinking supply. Many are still under the impression that bottled water is infinitely more clean and safe than (in our case) treated tap water taken derived from the "dirty” Mississippi River.
Of the four local fieldtrips that I take students on, one of their favorites is to the City of Moline's drinking water treatment facility. Utilities General Manager, Greg Swanson, gives our class an eye-opening tour of what it takes to produce a clean, safe, affordable drinking water supply. All of the students come away with a greater appreciation of the water supply for our community. Most are amazed at the exceedingly cheap price we pay for water, the federal regulations and standards that must be met (as opposed to bottled water), and that no tax dollars are committed to the supply.
The following comments from students reflecting on the most recent field trip serve to highlight the value of such water outreach experiences:
"By going on this fieldtrip I now more deeply appreciate and understand our very easy access to water as Americans especially compared to the processes cities and towns in India and Guatemala have to take in order to get water.”
"It is very interesting that the plant can take the dirty and polluted water from the Mississippi River and turn it in to high grade drinking water. The tour really gave me important factual knowledge on the subject and I feel I am more aware of how I get my tap water, rather than taking it for granted every time I turn on a faucet”
"I can honestly say that I was always a bottled water buyer; but now I will definitely trust the tap more. The work the plant does to make sure the community has safe drinking water is so much more than I thought was done.”
"I really valued this field trip because if made me feel better about using tap water now that I have seen all the careful measurements and procedures that go into cleaning fresh water. It also made me realize how pointless it is to use bottled water which wastes oil resources for creating plastic bottles and for transporting the bottles when tap water goes through more screenings than bottled water.”
"This was an interesting field trip. I was very surprised to learn that Moline's water infrastructure, and operations of the plant, were completely funded by water rates and fees (I had thought that taxes played a large role in covering expenses). "
It is my hope that the students remember this field trip when they leave the "Augie Bubble” and settle into their own homes and adult lives. Not only is it important to support and protect your community water supply, but I feel it is important to help my students understand how we overuse and abuse our planet's freshwater supply. It is a natural resource that we so easily take for granted.
Note: Some of our readers may be interested to learn of Professor Burnham's involvement with the High Arctic Institute and their studies of global climate change impacts on birds in Greenland. Follow this link for more information: http://www.augustana.edu/x47246.xml
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