A Method for Improving Water Quality: Water Sensitive Design in Auckland Schools.

Students experiment with making their own water cycle in a jar, making the connection that water is a limited resource.

Students experiment with making their own water cycle in a jar, making the connection that water is a limited resource.

It's possible the water we're drinking was once dinosaur pee! This fact gets a resolute sounding “eeewwww!” from the primary and intermediate-aged students participating in the Water Sensitive Design (WSD) in Schools programme. Environmental Scientists Cat Davis and Monique Wheat debunk the myth of scientists hovering in lab-coats over a microscope by going into the classroom to educate students on water issues at schools within the Hibiscus Bays and Devonport-Takapuna Local Board areas.

Why do we discuss dinosaur pee? The water on Earth is constantly recycled in a closed system; no water comes in and no water goes out. This concept is central to understanding the importance of water and the connections between stormwater and wastewater to the water quality in rivers, streams and the sea - in the students’ backyards, in Auckland and in the wider world. 

This year the team from Morphum Environmental, funded by the Hibiscus Bays and Devonport-Takapuna Local Boards together with the Sustainable Schools advisors at Auckland Council, have delivered four sets of lessons for up to 30 students at each of the six schools.

The informative lessons on water, stormwater, pollution and water-sensitive design are paired with relevant interactive activities to get the students out of the classroom and implementing their learning. The lessons aim to increase the number of people educated about preventing pollution in our waterways through good stormwater management practices, including rain tanks and stormwater harvesting.

Real ‘lightbulb’ moments are happening for many students, who return to subsequent lessons with accounts of ways that they have changed their behaviour regarding water, and examples of how they are getting others to change their behaviour too (e.g. washing cars on the lawn). This shows that the students are making important connections between how stormwater pollution affects rivers (awa) and the sea. 

The fourth lesson, led by Morphum Environmental’s Graduate Engineer Sarah Andrew and Cat Davis, introduced different types of water-sensitive devices to the students. The students donned hi-vis vests as they investigated their school grounds as “stormwater engineers”, seeking sites for installation of water-sensitive solutions like permeable pavement, green roofs, rain tanks and rain gardens that are applicable for their school. A rain tank, funded by Local Boards, will be installed at each of the schools and unveiled in an opening ceremony led by Laurie Dee from Rainworks. 

Feedback from Dianne Cluett, a teacher at Bayswater Primary, confirms the value of the lessons for the students: 

I have been meaning to email you to say how fabulous Cat and Monique were with the children. They learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed it. I really appreciated their efforts and expertise both in knowledge they imparted, and the way they both worked with the children. What they did with the children was so well organised and engaging. Thank you so much for including our school in this project. We are very privileged. We are really looking forward to today.” 

The Water Sensitive Design in Schools programme was successfully implemented in 2017 at Milford School, Hauraki School and Murrays Bay Intermediate, and in 2016 at Murrays Bay School, Rowandale School and Onehunga Primary. These programmes were very successful, with the students and their schools working together to implement water-sensitive design options, including the installation of rain gardens and stormwater detention tanks. The students also took away learnings about water-sensitive design, demonstrated ownership of their environment, and were empowered to become guardians of our water. 

To find out whether Water Sensitive Design in Schools programmes are available in your community, contact your Local Board. https://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/about-auckland-council/how-auckland-council-works/local-boards/Pages/find-local-board.aspx


Cat Davis

Environmental Scientist