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Classroom Education on Stormwater

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Promoting the Stormwater Message

Photo of students learn about stormwater pollution


Classroom education plays an integral role in any stormwater pollution outreach program. Providing stormwater education through schools conveys the message not only to students but to their parents. Many municipal stormwater programs partner with educators and experts to develop storm water-related programs for the classroom. These lessons need not be elaborate or expensive to be effective.


The municipality's role is to support a school district's stormwater education efforts, not to dictate what programs and materials the school should use. Municipalities should work with school officials to identify their needs. For example, if the schools request stormwater outreach materials, municipalities can provide a range of educational aids, from simple photocopied handouts, overheads, posters and slide shows, to more costly and elaborate working models and displays. The Daly City (California) Utilities gave a slide show and video presentation of marine animals entangled in plastics to eighth-graders just before their 1998 beach cleanup. Afterward, they had their largest volunteer turnout ever.


Building a strong relationship with the school district is the most important step in getting stormwater education into the schools. One of the first questions to ask is what if any stormwater education programs have the schools implemented or would like to see implemented if they had the resources to do so. When developing an outreach message for children, choose the age-ranges to target. Will the focus be on students in preschool, grammar school, middle school, or high school? Should the curricula be grade-level specific? Will the program involve a year-long study, a semester, a special topic or event, or a single presentation by an organization? What special equipment might be needed? For example, the municipality might purchase a small-scale watershed model that can be loaned to schools for demonstrations as part of a watershed education program. The school district's needs and the municipal resources available will determine the answers to these questions.

The State of California's new water quality lesson plans for grades 4-6 feature a campus water runoff study that demonstrates how various pollutants, such as trash, pesticides and motor oil, can travel off school grounds into nearby storm drains en route to our waterways. Students then devise "service learning" projects, such as creating websites, forming campus recycling clubs and conducting neighborhood canvassing and civic group presentations on water pollution prevention. Developed by the California Water Boards, which regulate water quality matters in the state, the site features 24/7 teacher training via webcast connection and online mentor support. The lesson plans and distance learning tool will be used by Phase I and Phase II NPDES permittees within the state. The site would also prove useful for other permittees nationwide. (See California Water Board Water Quality Service Learning Program Exit EPA Site).

The University of Central Florida has developed the Stormwater Education Toolkit (SET) Exit EPA Site, which contains educational information for teachers.

Many additional classroom materials are available for free. Colorado has compiled teacher resources on urban stormwater, (See Teacher Resources for Introducing Urban Stormwater Quality Concepts to the Classroom [PDF - 132 KB - 19 pp] Exit EPA Site).

The city of Eugene's (Oregon) Stormwater Management Program offers a free 13-page booklet listing stormwater videos, classroom presentations, demonstrations, and models available for checkout to Eugene teachers. Guest speakers also are available to give classroom presentations.

The city of Los Angeles's Stormwater Program offers several classroom materials, including a Special Agent Task Book, to supplement its EcoTours program (targeting third and fourth graders), the Clean Water Patrol coloring book (which teaches children about their urban forest and how neighborhood behavior can affect the environment), and colorful vinyl stickers with clever stormwater sayings, such as "You Otter Not Pollute."

The University of Wisconsin offers educational materials entitled "Educating Young People About Water." These materials can help the user develop a community-based, youth education program that targets youths, links key members of the community, and allows both groups to work together toward common water education goals. Various guides and other educational materials are available from the university. See Educating Young People About Water Exit EPA Site website for more information about these materials and ordering information.

Other programs have created models for display in schools. Sacramento, California's Storm Water Management Program has designed a working stormwater display that identifies the many sources of stormwater runoff. The exhibit features a model of a typical urban community, with stormwater and pollution draining into a creek. Interactive buttons highlight various sources of stormwater pollution occurring within the community. Brief explanations of stormwater pollution accompaning the model help convey the important message that storm water flows directly, untreated, into creeks and rivers. The model is available on a limited basis for loan to schools and other educational programs in the Sacramento area (City of Sacramento, 1999).

San Diego's Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) has developed two excellent environmental programs for the San Diego Regional Household Hazardous Materials Program (SDRHHMP). Pollution Solutions Start at Home is an interdisciplinary course for middle and junior high school students. Household Toxics is a course for fourth-through sixth-grade students. It teaches the safe use and disposal of household hazardous materials, along with safer alternatives to such products. EHC also produces a Watershed Protection Kit, which includes two learning activity packets, 10 storm drain stencils, and a carrying case ($50.00). These materials and others are available through the Environmental Health Coalition, 1717 Kettner, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-235-0281.

Seattle Public Utilities has recently turned its award-winning "Water You Doing" video into an educational CD-ROM for classrooms and libraries. The CD features videos, games, and activities highlighting Seattle's and Puget Sound's water resources. The CD is available at the Environmental Information Center in Seattle's 22 Public Libraries. The CD is free to teachers within Seattle Public Utilities' service area. Outside Seattle, discs are available for a nominal fee to cover the cost of pressing and shipping. Copies can be obtained from Seattle Public Utilities by contacting Richard Gustav at Seattle Public Utilities, 710 Second Ave., 10th floor, Seattle, WA 98104, 206-684-7591.

Home*A*Syst is a program designed to help homeowners and renters understand environmental risks in and around their home. The program guides the public in developing action plans for making voluntary changes to prevent pollution. Additionally, Home*A*Syst helps individuals understand what they can do to help protect the environment, how they can take action, and where they can find the support necessary to act. To accomplish this, the program offers a guide entitled Home*A*Syst: An Environmental Risk-Assessment Guide for the Home, which provides in-depth information and comprehensive checklists to help users evaluate environmental risks. The guide is composed of eleven chapters that cover a variety of topics, including stormwater. If children are made aware of this resource, they can encourage their parents to use the program and reduce environmental risks around the home. More information about Home*A*Syst see the Home*A*Syst Exit EPA Sitewebsite.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) offers a number of educational resources. Posters are available for teaching students in grades K-12 about wastewater, water quality, groundwater, and water use. The USGS also offers fact sheets, useful links, and an educational outreach program designed to stimulate interest in fresh water resources for students and educators in grades K-12. See USGS Exit EPA Site website for more information.

Similar to USGS, EPA offers a number of educational resources for students and teachers. Schools frequently locate these resources in their environmental education and student "centers." More information about these centers, as well as specific resources found within each, can be found at the USEPA Kids, Students, and Teachers website. Other free publications are also available at USEPA's Stormwater Outreach Materials website.

The Green Teacher is another educational resource that is useful for educating students. Written by educators, the magazine is designed to help educators enhance environmental and global education across the curriculum for all grade levels. Each issue contains articles, ready-to-use activities, resource listings and reviews, and a number of other resources. See the Green Teacher Exit EPA Site website for more information about the magazine. Other educational resources for K-12 educators are available from the Water Environment Federation Exit EPA Site), (Project WET Exit EPA Site), and a number of other organizations and programs throughout the country.

The Colorado Water Protection Project has created a useful booklet of stormwater information called the "Colorado Water Protection Kit (PDF)" Exit EPA Site. The kit contains information on polluted runoff, landscaping, yard and garden products, pet waste, household hazardous waste, motor oil and automotive products, boating and marinas, conservation, and septic systems.


The effectiveness of stormwater education in the classroom depends on many factors. The lessons and activities must be interesting and fun, and most importantly, they must be targeted to the appropriate age group(s).


The benefits of teaching schoolchildren about stormwater issues are plentiful. These children will learn about environmental issues early and will therefore become interested and perhaps involved at earlier ages. Schoolchildren often tell their parents what they learn in school. Therefore, teaching children about stormwater is an effective way to pass environmental awareness to their parents and throughout the entire community.


One of the limitations of classroom education is being able to incorporate stormwater issues into the school curricula. With so many subjects to teach, environmental issues might be viewed as less important. Another limitation is the cost of new materials.


Many classroom education materials can be ordered free of charge or downloaded from the Internet. Stormwater agencies can generally supply information and materials. The cost of producing materials will vary with the scope of efforts. For example, producing classroom packets can cost as little as $100.$200, whereas the cost of permanent displays and models can be as high as $1,000.$5,000 or more. Make sure to get estimates from individual vendors before preparing the classroom educational materials budget. Work within attainable financial means. If applicable, contact corporations to sponsor the programs or to donate materials.


California Water Boards. No date. Water Quality Service Learning Program. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed November 4, 2005.

City of Sacramento Stormwater Management Program. No date. Stormwater Model. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

City of Sacramento Stormwater Management Program. No date. Attention Teachers. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Colorado. No date. Teacher Resources for Introducing Urban Stormwater Quality Concepts to the Classroom. [ [PDF - 132 KB - 19 pp] Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Colorado Water Protection Project. 2001. Colorado Water Protection Kit. []. Accessed September 8, 2005.

EnviroScape. No date. Welcome to EnviroScape. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Green Teacher. Green Teacher: Education for Planet Earth. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Project Wet. 1999. Project WET: Water Education for Teachers. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Seattle Public Utilities. 2003. Water You Doing? The CD. [Seattle Public Utilities Education Center Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

University of Central Florida. 2002. SET Toolkit. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

University of Wisconsin, Environmental Resources Center. 2004. Educating Young People About Water. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

University of Wisconsin. 2003. Home*A*Syst. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

USEPA. EPA Kids: Students and Teachers. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. []. Last updated May 27, 2005. Accessed September 8, 2005.

USGS. Education Resources. United States Geological Survey. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Water Environment Federation. 2003. WEF for Students. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.


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