2016 H2O Challenge – The Winner’s Reward

Sixth-grade students and their teacher at Downtown Elementary School in Bakersfield, Calif., who designed and conducted an experiment to test the impact of greywater on lawns versus freshwater, were named the 2016 grand-prize winners of the Cal Water H2O Challenge. The students, with guidance from their teacher Rachel Lenix, demonstrated the advantages of using a 50/50 greywater/freshwater mix as an alternative water source for keeping lawns green while meeting State-mandated water conservation targets.

Developed in collaboration with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the Cal Water H2O Challenge was open to students and teachers in grades 4-6 in schools served by Cal Water. For their efforts in creating a project that heightens awareness of environmental principles especially in the area of water conservation, Lenix’s class will receive a $3,500 grant along with a classroom tent-camping trip to the Santa Monica Mountains in conjunction with the NatureBridge environmental science education program.

For the winning project titled, “Downtown’s 6th Graders’ Water Challenge: Greywater as an Alternative Water Source,” Lenix says the students designed and built plant boxes for sod to use in a greywater experiment. They included a freshwater control and three variations using different percentages of greywater to find an ideal substitute. The students also created brochures and a presentation board to spread conservation awareness in their school and community.

“The creative energy the students and teachers at these three elementary schools put into their projects inspire us at Cal Water,” said Martin A. Kropelnicki, Cal Water President and CEO. “The classes demonstrate to us at this pivotal and critical time of water conservation that we can always work together to ensure that our communities can still enjoy an excellent quality of life when we all think wisely about our water use.”

Greywater, which is defined as gently used water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines, can be recycled for safe use. It does not include water that has come into contact with human waste materials, either from the toilet or washing diapers. Greywater may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and certain household cleaning products. It is commonly used as a water source for irrigation for lawns and the yards surrounding a residence. The California Plumbing Code allows the use of greywater under certain conditions. See www.hcd.ca.gov for more information.

“There were numerous successes observed through the project. Among the many was an internalization of the importance of water conservation,” Lenix explains. “Students did research on their own time and shared their knowledge with their parents. The greatest success had to be the responsibility and the love of learning the students displayed during the project. I am amazed at the level of work the students did.”

H2O Challenge presentation

Other winners for the Cal Water H2O Challenge are:

2nd place: Fifth-grade students and their teacher Mike Buckley at Murdock Elementary School in Willows, Calif., for designing a rain collection and timed watering system for their school’s 7,500-square-foot garden of native plants. This class won a $2,500 classroom grant along with a pizza party and Cal Water prize pack for each student in the class.

3rd place: Fifth-grade students and their teacher Jennifer Dace, also at Murdock Elementary, for a campaign that banned the use of plastic water bottles on the school campus, and donated proceeds from the sale of reusable water bottles to support organizations that provide clean drinking water to developing countries. These winners received a $2,000 classroom grant plus a Cal Water prize pack for each class student.

4th place: Sixth-grade students and their teacher Athena Weddle at Shannon Ranch Elementary School in Visalia, Calif., for designing and distributing a pamphlet to approximately 1,000 households in the Shannon Ranch neighborhood explaining local water issues and water conservation strategies. The class received a $1,000 grant and a Cal Water prize pack for each student in the class.

2016 H2O challenge

The results of the Cal Water H2O Challenge amplify the goals of the NAAEE’s ongoing National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, according to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE’s deputy director. “It is a perfect way to learn how we can become hands-on advocates for the values that mean the most in our communities,” she adds.

Maertens says NAAEE’s partnership with Cal Water offers many mutual benefits, especially in expanding water conservation efforts throughout the state and building hands-on educational programs into the school curriculum, such as the project-based H2O Challenge. “Most importantly, students are learning the foundations of science through environmental education,” she 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] in solving problems that directly affect our schools and neighborhoods – for example when it comes to managing and conserving water resources during a record drought.”

H2O Challenge winners