The children gathered round, watching in anticipation as Lauren Haydon, an educator with the Washington County Conservation District, slowly poured water from a graduated cylinder into smaller and smaller vessels.

“Only 3% of all of the water on Earth is freshwater,” she explained as she poured. “And of that amount, two-thirds is trapped in glaciers.”

She poured again.

“The final amount remaining that is fresh, clean, liquid and easily accessible to humans is just 0.01% of all the water on Earth.”

The students stared in silence at the single drop of water that landed with a soft pat on the dish she held out in her hand.

“That little drop?” called a girl in the back of the room.

“That’s all that’s available?” wondered a boy near the front.

The class at Royal Oaks Elementary in Woodbury was part of a series on groundwater offered by Washington County and the Conservation District to help teach children about where our water comes from and how to keep it clean. In the week leading up to Haydon’s visit, the fourth graders kept a journal of all the water they used during daily activities. One week later, they took a field trip to Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury to see a unique groundwater-fed wetland known as a fen.

In Washington County, 100% of the water used for drinking, irrigation, business, industry and household needs comes from groundwater. Protecting these groundwater resources from contamination and overuse is critical to human health, economic vitality and quality of life.

During their classroom lesson, Haydon explained how groundwater works, using a model to demonstrate how layers of porous rock (aquifers) hold water that can be drawn up by wells. She also talked about common sources of groundwater contamination, including illegal dumping of chemicals, leaking septic systems, and overuse of nitrogen-rich fertilizers, especially in sandy soils and areas with karst topography (places where there are cracks in the bedrock).

When students visited the Tamarck Nature Preserve the next week, they learned how groundwater supports plant and animal life as well. They navigated the wetland on a floating boardwalk, looked for snakes and frogs, listened for birds, and got their hands wet searching for snails, fish and aquatic insects. The goal was to help them develop a personal connection with groundwater — a vital resource that often remains out of sight and out of mind.

Asked what people could do to help protect groundwater in our area, Haydon offered three simple suggestions: 1) Install a SMART irrigation controller or manually control your sprinklers to avoid using too much water; 2) Take household hazardous waste to the county drop-off site (4039 Cottage Grove Drive, Woodbury); and 3) Limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides that could leach into the ground and contaminate water below.

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220, ext. 35, or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.