Operation Community Water Footprint Lesson Plan

Objectives: Students will conduct research on the process used to treat local tap water. Students will analyze data and perform calculations regarding water use in water treatment processes. Students will investigate the drinking water quality test results for local water and consider the implications of the results. Students will share and compare their results with those of other classes and communities across the country.


Operation Community Water Footprint (OCWF) is a project that you will need at least six class periods to complete. The project is split into sections titled Introduction, Research, Calculations, Analysis part 1, Analysis part 2 and Action. You should be able to complete these sections in one class period each with the possible exception of the Research section. Depending on how you decide to run it and how easily your class is able to gather the information this section may take much longer. The Research section will require students to perform real research to find information that may not be available in library books or on the Internet. There may need to be contact between the students and representatives of the local water treatment facility, local hydro utility and the department of your provincial government responsible for keeping track of water quality test results. You could have your students conduct this research by sending letters or e-mails or by making phone calls but this is also an excellent opportunity for field trips and/or in-class guest speakers.

This project can be used with students from grades 6 to 12 if appropriate adjustments are made for younger students. You can tailor the amount of independence and/or guidance you give the students and the amount of detail into which you delve to fit your class.

There are several instances during this project where the students will need access to computers and the Internet.



Distribute printed copies of the first handout to the class and read through it with them. Follow this up with a description of the upcoming research project and let the class know about any field trips or guest speakers you have planned. You could also hand out printed copies of the research questions handout at this time and allow the students to think about them and talk about them a little bit.

If you will be going on field trips and/or having guest speakers you probably have to inform the class of this well in advance. In this case, you can use this introductory lesson early, return to your other lessons for a while, and then come back to OCWF a class or two before the trip and/or speaker.


If it has been a little while since the introductory lesson you can begin by giving the students a brief review of it. If you have not already done so, hand out printed copies of the Research Questions handout.

Go over these questions and try to come up with others with your class based on any aspects of the water treatment process that might interest the students. Along with the specific information required for this project students can ask about the source of the water and processes used to treat it.

The following are the questions that the class must find the answers to for this project. The first six are required to fully complete the water footprint calculations, the final two are for the extra analysis.

  1. What volume of fresh water is brought into the facility per unit time?
  2. What volume of treated water is put into distribution per unit time?
  3. What kind of chemicals are used and in what amounts?
  4. What is the total metered water use of the area served by this water treatment facility?
  5. What is the non-metered water use of the area from such things as fire hydrants? If an exact answer is not available, an estimate will be okay.
  6. What is the population served by this drinking water treatment facility?
  7. What drinking water quality tests are performed on the local water and how often are they done?
  8. What have the results of these tests been?

Much of the information needed to complete this activity will come from the operator of the local drinking water treatment facility. As mentioned before, students can collect this information through email or letter correspondence or in person.

If you will have your students writing letters or e-mails this might be a good opportunity to work with the language arts and/or information processing teachers. In either case you will need to work with your students to delegate tasks. To avoid any confusion and to make sure that no questions get forgotten each student can choose (or be assigned) questions for which they will be responsible. Students can then each be in charge of writing a section of a letter dealing with their questions or be the ones to ask their questions during a field trip. For a field trip the questions can be written on cue cards or in a notebook, remember to leave space for the answers.

Each of the questions we suggest is accompanied by a description of the desired format of the answers and what that information is to be used for. These descriptions will allow the students to recognize if any of the answers given to their questions are insufficient or if they need to ask for more details. If difficulties arise these descriptions could be read to the person being questioned along with the questions to help them understand exactly what you are looking for so that they can more easily provide the desired information.

The answers to all of the questions might not be readily known by the person the students are asking during a tour. Two solutions are to either provide the questions beforehand so that the desired information can be found and then given during the tour or they can ask the questions during the tour but allow the person to get back to them with some of the answers if they are unsure.

The questions about water quality test results can be asked of the drinking water treatment facility operator but they may not have all of the required information. Some testing might be done by employees of the facility but, in many cases, much of the testing is performed by other organizations. If they do not have all of the testing results information they should be able to suggest a more appropriate person to ask. For these questions you might not want to stop at the first answer you get, if the treatment facility performs some tests and gives you those results you can still check with someone at the town/city office to see if other tests have been done. Many provinces also make drinking water quality testing results available online so that is another source your students can check.

The questions about metered water use could also be asked at the treatment facility, if they do not have the information you need they can probably tell you who does.

You may need to arrange for the students to be in contact with several more people or organizations so they can track down all of the information they need. If information is needed from the town/city water utility it might be a good opportunity to ask a representative to visit your classroom. They can give a presentation on some different aspects of your community’s waterworks and the students can ask some questions.


The set of calculations that needs to be done in order to turn the data collected by the class into a water footprint value is not trivial, you may need to do the calculations for the students and show them how they are done. You might even want to bring a math or physics teacher into the classroom to help explain the calculations. Be sure to distribute printed copies of the Calculations handout which contains the water footprint calculation guide. This contains detailed descriptions of each step of the calculation along with two examples and should provide sufficient guidance for students to complete this portion of the project. There are three important results of these calculations

  1. The water footprint of one litre of your tap water – This is the volume of fresh water that is used to bring one litre of drinking water to your tap.
  2. The community water footprint – This is the volume of fresh water that is used per unit time by the whole community.
  3. The per capita water footprint – This is the volume of fresh water used per unit time by each individual in the community.

Analysis part 1

You can begin this lesson by asking the class some general questions about water conservation to get them thinking about it.

What do you know about different ways of conserving water?
Students might suggest things such as not letting the tap run, taking shorter showers or installing low flow toilets.

Does knowing that each litre of tap water is actually more than one litre of fresh water make it seem more important to try to use less tap water?
How might the water footprint of your tap water be reduced?
Ask for very general suggestions such as improving the water efficiency of the treatment process used, using fewer chemicals and better maintaining the distribution system. The students might come up with some very interesting ideas.

Why might the treatment facility be the best place to start conserving water?
Students should recognize that conservation beginning at the facility would decrease the water footprint of the tap water and result in their community using far less fresh water even if the people in the community did not act to conserve water.

After this discussion the students can investigate how certain changes can potentially affect the water footprint of the community. Instructions for this exercise are included in Analysis part 1 handout, distribute printed copies of this handout to the class.

Recommend to the students that they record the effects of each change in a table similar to the one shown here. They should feel free to add more rows or columns for extra information they would like to track.

Chart for Operation Community Water Footprint

Following this exercise you can ask the class about how effective each of the changes seems to be. Ask them what kind of changes they think should be implemented in their community, what they think it would take to get those changes made and how they might be able to help make it happen. Keep these things in mind as you may be able to expand on them in the Action section.

Another possible follow-up to this lesson is the “I use that much water?!” lesson in Operation Water Flow (OWF).

Analysis part 2

Through their research the students will hopefully have come up with a list of some parameters that their water has been tested for and the results of those tests. There is no way to predict how much information they will be able to find because the amount of testing done and the availability of the results varies widely region to region but they can take a closer look at any drinking water quality test results they were able to find.

Distribute printed copies of the Analysis part 2 handout and read through it with the class. Students can get together in small groups and compare the available testing data to the chart of standards. Here is the colour comparison chart. Here is a black and white comparison chart in case you would like to print them for the students in black and white.

For each parameter that the students have found values they should first check if it meets the Canadian guidelines and then check if it also meets the shown examples of international standards which are often more stringent.

Ask the students if their water is failing to meet any of the standards. For each instance of standards not being met (if there are any) the students might do a little research into the consequences of this. Find out what health effects there may be to drinking water containing these contaminants. Have there been health problems in the community that could be attributed to this?

Information on a few waterborne illnesses can be found at http://diseases.canada.ca/notifiable/. You may want your students to spend a little time looking at this website. The relevant diseases to investigate are Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidiosis, Giardiasis, and Hepatitis A. They can click on the links to view different types of charts and then click on the disease they wish to investigate here: http://diseases.canada.ca/notifiable/charts-list.

If the students are concerned that their drinking water is not being thoroughly tested there are a few things they might be able to do. The students can follow up with the water treatment facility or the town office and ask that an additional few key tests be performed to be sure that the water supply is safe. Two examples of important tests that are rarely performed are arsenic and ammonia. Testing for arsenic is important because it is toxic and is very dangerous when present in drinking water and testing for ammonia is important because it can disrupt the disinfection process and result in water contaminated with bacteria. The problems associated with ammonia are looked at in-depth in the SDWF program Operation Water Biology (OWB).

It is not difficult (but sometimes it is expensive) to get your water tested. Provincial governments have water testing services and there are many private labs that do water testing. There are also several water quality tests that the students can perform themselves. One of SDWF’s other programs, Operation Water Drop (OWD), allows students to test for 12 water quality parameters when using the high school Operation Water Drop kit (the Elementary Operation Water Drop kit tests for 8 different parameters). Learn more about OWD.


Your class should share their findings with as many people in the community as they can. Let people know about the water footprint of their tap water and of their community. Tell people what the results of local water testing have been especially if the results are not good, people deserve to know if there are problems with their water. The class can begin by making a presentation to the rest of the school and then by telling their friends and family and asking them to spread the word.

The students can develop water conservation plans for the school, their homes and even for the local water treatment facility.

If you think that some changes in your community’s drinking water treatment and distribution systems really are in order then maybe the students could make a presentation on their findings to the town council.

Evaluation: Much of the evaluation for this project will be based on participation. Did students participate in class discussions? Did they contribute to group work activities? Did they ask questions during field trips or guest appearances? Did they take any of the many opportunities that this project presents for individuals to take on leadership roles?
The students' calculations can be submitted for grading. If you asked your students to create charts to record their results in the Analysis part 1 lesson then this work can be submitted for grading. You could also ask your students to write reports detailing what they found out about their community’s drinking water.