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Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support (MEECS)
Water Quality Unit for Science & Social Studies (Gr. 6-8)


Living in the water-rich Great Lakes basin, many Michigan students take water for granted. The MEECS Water Quality Unit is designed to provide students with a solid foundation in understanding the critical importance of having adequate supplies of clean, available fresh water for the environment, Michigan’s economy, and our quality of life. The unit provides a national and international perspective on water availability, an appreciation for Michigan’s “dirty” water history, and an understanding of the challenges that Michigan faces in addressing water quality and quantity issues related to groundwater, streams and rivers, wetlands, inland lakes, and the Great Lakes. Not only can humans not survive a week without water, neither can an economy survive without sufficient supplies of clean water.

The MEECS Water Quality Unit contains nine core lessons and five extension lessons, as well as numerous extension and enhancement activities. All lessons are correlated to middle and high school benchmarks for science and social studies. The lessons and activities may be adapted for specific grades, as well as for non-formal education programs. In addition, six interactive online learning modules have been developed to support several lessons in the unit ( Both individual lesson assessments and a MEAP-like unit assessment are included. The embedded lesson assessments are either project-based or invite student reflection and discussion. Teachers also have the option of using a pre- and post-unit assessment. Use of a science journal throughout the unit is also encouraged.

Topics addressed in the unit include the availability and distribution of water on Earth (Lesson 1); household water use and water used in the manufacture of goods and services in Michigan (Lesson 2); managing water quantity and movement within a watershed (Lesson 3); land uses and water pollution (Lesson 4); groundwater quality and potential contamination (Lesson 5); measuring water quality and the history of water quality protection in Michigan (Lesson 6); assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems with stream monitoring (Lesson 7); managing storm water runoff (Lesson 8); and threats to the Great Lakes (Lesson 9). Some of the current challenges that we face are invasive species, emerging contaminants, proposed out-of-basin export of Great Lakes water, over-pumping of groundwater, combined sewer overflows and storm water runoff, cleaning up Areas of Concern and Superfund sites, potential impacts of climate change on water levels and aquatic ecosystems, beach closures, loss of wetlands, declining biodiversity, bioaccumulation of contaminants in fish, and more. Students are encouraged to explore possible solutions to these challenges including pollution prevention strategies, using data to make management decisions, personal behavior and product choices, engaging in activities that inform their communities, and more. The role of government and environmental stewardship to protect water quality and quantity is woven into lessons throughout the unit.

The water management choices that Michigan residents make now and in the future will have significant environmental, economic, and social impacts for us as individuals, for our communities, the State of Michigan, and for our country. How can Michigan residents, businesses, and industry continue to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their water resource needs? In order to ensure a healthy, sustainable future, Michigan residents must have the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed data-based decisions about the water resource challenges facing us as residents of a Great Lakes state and as participants in a global economy.

The Water Quality Unit addresses the following “Enduring Understandings.” Upon completion of the unit, students will understand that:

  1. (Awareness) Good quality water and an adequate supply of water are essential to Michigan’s communities and to our quality of life.
  2. (Connections) All Michigan residents live in a watershed that is part of the Great Lakes watershed, a unique global resource of unprecedented importance to Michigan, the United States and the world.
  3. (Concern) Our activities have past, present, and future impacts on Michigan's water resources.
  4. (Knowledge) Water quality standards have been established to protect the many uses of Michigan’s water.
  5. (Knowledge) We can assess the health and water quality of Michigan’s streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater by collecting and analyzing appropriate data.
  6. (Knowledge) We need to know where our drinking water comes from and where our wastewater goes.
  7. (Decision-making) We need data to make decisions about protecting and restoring Michigan’s water resources.
  8. (Stewardship and sustainability) It is up to every citizen to be a steward of Michigan’s water resources.

The future of Michigan’s environment, economy, and quality of life depends on the decisions made by today’s youth as tomorrow’s decision-makers. The MEECS Water Quality Unit will help Michigan students gain the knowledge and skills they need to become stewards of Michigan’s water resources and to help keep this Great Lake’s state GREAT!

Download or Print Lesson Table

Overview of Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support (MEECS)
Water Quality Unit for Science & Social Studies (Gr. 6-8)

Essential Question
Key Concepts
Core Lesson
How much water is available for human use?
Water cycle processes; distribution of water on Earth.
1. Where Is All the Water in the World?
Students describe how water moves through the water cycle, where water is located on Earth, and how much fresh water is available for human use.
Why is clean, available freshwater important to Michigan?
Direct and indirect water uses; value of water to Michigan’s environment and economy.
2. How Do We Use Water?
Students identify the many ways we use water daily in all we do and all we consume. Students calculate their weekly water use and its cost compared to gasoline.
Why are watersheds important?
Watershed, runoff, surface water, groundwater, stream discharge.
3. Do You Know Where Your Watershed Is?
Students define watershed and the parts of a river; compare watershed size and stream flow in Michigan; examine their watersheds’ relationship to the Great Lakes
How do different land uses affect water quantity & quality?
Land uses, sources of pollutants, point and non-point source pollution.
4. How Do Land Uses Affect Water Quality?
Students build a simple watershed model to observe point & non-point pollution from different land uses; identify the types of pollution resulting from different land uses; give examples of best management practices to reduce pollution.
How can groundwater become polluted?
Connection of groundwater and surface water; groundwater movement; sources of groundwater contamination.
5. Why Care About Groundwater?
Students examine groundwater characteristics, how groundwater is used in Michigan, and how groundwater interacts with surface water. Build a model to show how groundwater is recharged and how it can be polluted.
How do we know if water is clean?
Water quality standards; drinking water protection; history of water quality protection.
6. Would You Drink This Water?
Students consider whether the ‘look’ and ‘smell’ of water is enough to indicate its quality; conduct a serial dilution to observe the tiny quantities that can be harmful to humans and aquatic organisms; and become familiar with who protects Michigan’s water quality.
How do you know if a stream is healthy?
Stream health: water quality, bio-assessment, physical measurements, habitat quality.
7. How Healthy Is This Stream?
Students identify characteristics of healthy streams; use real Michigan data to select the best stream for brook trout.
How does storm water runoff impact rivers, lakes and the Great Lakes?
Sources of storm water pollutants and strategies for controlling storm water runoff and improving water quality.
8. Can We Stop Storm Water?
Identify pollutants in storm water; use aerial photos to compare changes in land use and runoff quantity; identify best management practices to reduce storm water impacts.
What is bioaccumulation and other challenges to the Great Lakes? What can I do?
Bioaccumulation in the Great Lakes food web; stewardship of Michigan’s water resources.
9. Bioaccumulation and the Great Lakes Ecosystem
Investigate the bioaccumulation of contaminants in Great Lakes food chains; investigate Great Lakes concerns and answer ‘How can I help?”