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#SummerScienceFriday | Watershed Connections: Educational Tools

Here at Council for Watershed Health, we hold watershed education to high importance. Through our partnership with Southern California Edison (SCE), we have been able to continue our Watershed Connections: Science Communication Initiative. This initiative facilitates interactive educational activities through not only our weekly #SummerScienceFriday blog posts, but also through community outreach events to educate communities on a variety of watershed topics. At these events, we make sure to bring our most important educational tools, our Watershed Connections Activity Books and our watershed model. These tools allow us to teach students of all ages about how we can better protect our watershed through hands-on demonstrations. For this #SummerScienceFriday, we’re making it easier for teachers and communities to utilize our Watershed Connections education and engagement tools to teach others about watershed stewardship. Grab your Watershed Connections Activity Books and let’s make a watershed model!

How to make a watershed model

There are many ways that a watershed model can be built, but one of the easiest is outlined in this video put out by PBS.

What you’ll need:

  1. Items that can be used as mountains and hills like containers, buckets, and egg cartons.

  2. A waterproof sheet or foil you can drape over them to waterproof the “terrain.”


Be sure to perform this activity outside or put something under the model that can collect water.

  1. Stack your containers to create mountains and hills.

  2. Drape the sheet or place foil over the containers. Be sure to place it in a way that valleys, rivers, and lakes are formed by the dips in the sheet or foil.

Lesson Plan

  1. Explain. What is a watershed? You can use the second page in your Watershed Connections Activity Book to guide you. As you explain, use a spray bottle to spray water on model. This allows students to watch how water flows from mountains to lower waterways like streams, rivers, and eventually, the ocean!

  1. Their Turn. After explaining key terms like headwaters and confluence, have your students try to find them on the model!

  2. Next, have students place some “pollutants” on the model. Things like pepper, hot cocoa powder, cooking oil, or food coloring are perfect. Have each one of the “pollutants” represent a real-world pollutant like oil, trash, and pet waste.

  1. Ask students, why are these pollutants harmful to the environment? Let’s see. Spray or pour water over these “pollutants” on the model and watch as they flow down mountains, into streams and rivers, into the ocean, and through the communities within the watershed!

  2. Explain. This spray or pour represents the first flush, the first large rainstorm after a period of little to no rain, which can dislodge pollutants and carry them down the watershed. These pollutants discharge into streams, rivers, and eventually into the ocean. It is very dangerous if there are a lot of pollutants in our waters at the same time, which is why you shouldn’t go to the beach in the days following a rainstorm! Too much fertilizer in the water can cause algal blooms, harmful for aquatic life. Oil and plastic creates sheen and odor, which is harmful to aquatic organisms and diminishes the beauty of our waterways. Pet waste carries E. coli bacteria, which can make communities along the river very sick.

  3. Key Message. Our pollution affects the watershed as a whole. So what can we do to be better watershed stewards? Use these pages from the Activity Book as a guide to explain the benefits of green infrastructure. You can also go to our website, under the Engagement Tools and Resources tab for a full green infrastructure lesson plan. We hope to workwith an educational consultant to ensure this lesson will work with next generation science standards. Green infrastructure mimics natural watershed processes to manage water through the use of vegetation, soil, and nature for healthier urban environments. By replacing asphalt and concrete surfaces with permeable pavements, like soil or porous stones, water is able to slow, spread, and sink where it falls and does not travel through storm drains, into rivers, or the ocean. This leads to better water quality and flood control. We have also provided a video on how to create a miniature model of green infrastructure works.

Tying It Together

Have students look at the watershed they call home. For students living in LA, the Los Angeles River Watershed and the San Gabriel River Watershed are shown on the third page of our Watershed Connections Activity Book. If you’re outside of these watersheds, you can also reference the first step of our interactive Be #WatershedActive Guide to find the watershed that your community is in. Ask the students to figure out where the water in their watershed starts and ends, the pollutants they may find in their water, and also ways that they could help improve the health of their watershed! For more information on the LA River watershed check out our blog post here and for more information about green infrastructure projects around LA visit!

Thank you to our #SummerScienceFriday partner!

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