Local Scouts Explore Water Education and Conservation

Over the past months, Human Impacts Institute (HII) has been working with Greenpoint Cub Scouts to explore water education and conservation. This event is part of HII’s Greening Greenpoint initiative, which aims at increasing education and stewardship while reducing pollution in Newtown Creek. The scout workshops focused on how local issues impact the community and what we can do about them. Topics included: Introduction to NYC water Quality and Creative Messaging, Environmental Justice, Water and Advocacy, and Clean Waterways= Healthy Community.

For the first class, cub scouts—aged six to eight–brainstormed ways to conserve water in their homes, schools, and on the streets of NYC. HII introduced key words such as, Storm Water Runoff, Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Collection, and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). For example, Storm Water Runoff is water that flows across the ground or pavements when it rains or when snow or ice melts. The water seeps into the ground or drains into the storm sewers, which can be seen at street corners or low points on the side of the streets.

Using the new vocabulary, the cubs came up with five things that we need to get water or our home or school. The list included pipes, pumps, lakes, people, transportation, filters, and drains. After they explored where water comes from, they learned about where water goes after we use it! Destinations included wastewater treatment plants, sewers, and local waterways such as the East River. Lastly, the Cubs created “displacement bottles” out of half gallon plastic milk/soda bottles. These empty bottles will be filled with pebbles or sand and inserted into their toilet tanks at home. These displacement bottles, when inserted, reduce the amount of water used per flush.

In the second workshop, the scouts played scientists exploring water quality. They tested the water quality of NYC’s drinking water and East River water. Parameters included Ammonia, Nitrate, pH and Alkalinity levels. Before they tested these parameters, HII explained the origin of where these pollutants can come from. For example, Ammonia comes from fish and human waste. Once the experiments began, scouts made predictions for how much pollution they thought will be in drinking water and local river water. After the discussion of storm water runoff and sewage being dumped into the river, the scouts predicted that the ammonia levels in the river would be high and that drinking water would have no ammonia. It turned out that the river and drinking water had similar low levels of ammonia. Scouts predicted that pH levels in the river would be at medium levels and the drinking water would be very high. After testing, they discovered the pH level were relatively low in acidity.

After exploring pollutants that affect their drinking water and NYC waterways, scouts came up with solutions to these pollution sources. Solutions included using less water, using eco-friendly cleaning products, recycling, and riding bikes or skateboards to get around the city instead of driving.

The final workshop focused on creating educational and advocacy posters that HII can hang up at future events. The scouts split up into three groups and created posters. The scouts were prompted with topics discussed in previous classes as well as new material about urban trees. At the end of the meeting, scouts presented their posters. The first group designed a poster about what effects drinking water & estuary quality. The group presented pictures of:

  • Farm runoff- fertilizers and sediments traveling into the waterways

  • Old pipes- lead pipes can leach into drinking water

  • Harmful cleaning supplies- Chemicals such as bleach can end up in waterways

  • Construction- Can pollute drinking water and NYC waterways

  • Sewage dumping- harmful to humans and aquatic organisms

The second group explained what they use water for including: drinking, showering, doing laundry, cleaning, and cooking. They also brainstormed ways they can conserve water such as:

  • Taking shorter showers

  • Using old water to water plants

  • Turning off the faucet when brushing their teeth

  • Installing displacement tanks in their toilets

The last group presented a new topic to the other students, “Why are Trees Important?” The scouts came up with 11 reasons!

  • Give us Oxygen

  • Give us shade

  • Trees are helpful

  • Trees give us shelter

  • Trees have homes

  • Trees give food

  • Trees make things look nice

  • Prevent Runoff

  • Absorb CO2, which is a harmful Greenhouse Gas

  • Remove Pollution

  • Cool Building

HII looks forward to partnering with the Greenpoint cub scouts in the spring. This time the scouts will join HII for MillionTreesNYC Green Points Challenge. The cub scouts will take part in various tree related activities in order to earn points and win some awesome prizes from Recyclebank! The scouts will also get the opportunity to earn badges from NYC Parks Department for their tree care activities.

*Special Thanks to NYCEF Newtown Creek Fund for supporting this program

By Melissa Mitchell, Human Impacts Institute Program Coordinator

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