Cal Water news release

Oak Knoll Elementary 4th-Graders Take Challenge 4th Place

Students researched and taught others about the benefits of xeriscape gardening as a means of water conservation in their winning entry

H2O ChallengeStudents at Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park, Calif., along with teacher Caryl Brewbaker, took fourth place in the 2018 Cal Water H2O Challenge for their efforts to learn and teach others about the benefits of xeriscape gardening for water conservation. They won a $1,000 grant for the classroom and a Cal Water prize pack for each student.

The Cal Water H2O Challenge ( is a collaboration between Cal Water and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). It is open annually to students and teachers in grades 4-6 in schools served by Cal Water and asks participants to adopt a project that addresses a local or global water-related issue.

For their project, “Xeriscape!”, students started by researching the water cycle, global warming, water use, and water waste, and speaking with a xeriscaping gardening specialist. Xeriscaping is a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation or other maintenance. Students then applied their findings by designing and engineering a xeriscape garden at their school, complete with drip irrigation and drought-tolerant plants. To help educate others on xeriscaping, students gave multiple presentations to the student body and to the parent-teacher organization, designed and disseminated public awareness fliers, and developed a class website that includes a page to help children and community members to design their own xeriscape gardens.

Brewbaker described the Challenge as having far-reaching impacts on her students’ understanding of water-related issues: “The overall effects of this challenge are mind-boggling. The children have thrown themselves into learning and are spreading the word of water conservation. The Cal Water H2O Challenge is making a difference via the children. You’ve given them a voice, and helped this teacher find a way to inspire that voice.”

“We are so impressed by the creativity and hard work of Ms. Brewbaker’s class,” said Ken Jenkins, Cal Water Director of Drought Management and Conservation. “We are well served when future generations build this foundation and engage in water issues, so together, we can improve the quality of life in the communities we serve.”

The Challenge also furthers the goals of NAAEE’s National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, according to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE’s deputy director. “This competition is teaching kids how to be hands-on advocates for resources their communities value the most,” she said.

NAAEE’s partnership with Cal Water is expanding water conservation efforts throughout the state and building educational programs into school curriculum. “Most importantly, students are learning the basics of science through environmental education,” Maertens explains. “These projects give students the opportunity to integrate the learning principles of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) into solving problems that directly affect our schools and neighborhoods.”