Caring For The Kaw Part 2: How Much Stormwater Runs Off Your House?

This lesson was developed by Dr. Cynthia Annett. There is a notebook in the attachment section that can be printed out on 4x6 cards and bound with book rings. It can be used in conjunction with Caring For The Kaw  Part 2: How Much Stormwater Runs Off Your House?

Overview: Students will learn about how their everyday activities impact the river and become empowered to help improve the environmental quality of their region.

Suggested grades: 6-9

Objective: Create a sense of “ownership” of the river that will help students to understand that they have a personal stake in reducing pollution and improving the ecological functioning of the Kansas River. Develop a set of personal “action plans” for reducing behaviors that lead to negative impacts on the river and the watershed in which students live and go to school.

Materials: A computer with Google Earth installed on it and files downloaded from the student activity page for this lesson. Measuring tapes and a pencil and paper.

Lecture:  Water from all parts of the watershed can find its way into the river. Some of this water will contain pollutants.

Water can carry pollution to the river in two ways:

1.    Point Source Pollution (also called “end-of-pipe” pollution) is from discharges that come from identifiable sources like sewage treatment plant outfalls, power plant discharges, or discharge pipes from factories or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

2.    Non-point Source Pollution (also called “stormwater runoff”) is from water that flows over roads, agricultural fields, lawns and other parts of the watershed that may be polluted by chemicals such as pesticides or motor oil.

Because “water flows downhill” almost anything that is in a watershed has the potential to wind up in our river. That even includes litter like plastic bags or bottles that can wash off a roadside and into a storm drain to the river.

During rainstorms (or when snow melts) water runs off your roof, lawn, gardens and driveway. Most of this water will flow into storm drains. The storm drains on your street will either go directly to the river (or streams that connect to the river) or else they will go to a sewage treatment plant. In older cities, the storm drains that go to a sewage treatment plant are called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO's). The big problem with CSO's is that they have a limited capacity, and when there is a big rainstorm they get overwhelmed-- when this happens raw sewage is dumped straight into the river. CSO's are being replaced all over Kansas, and over the next decade most should be replaced.

The best thing we can do to help this situation is to reduce the amount of stormwater that runs off our house and yard. That and be careful not to put chemicals on the ground that will contaminate the runoff (for example, don't put fertilizer on your lawn right before a rainstorm, don't dump motor oil down a storm drain, etc.).

Activity: Students will make a rough calculation of how much rain water will run off their roof during a rainstorm. We will use a set of approximations to simplify calculations. Sample calculations are provided on the student activity page. Have the student take a measuring tape and measure the length and width of the building. It would be helpful to have them draw a sketch of the building and write the measurements on the appropriate sides.

Additional activities can include installing a rain gauge to investigate the pattern of rain fall at your location. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network (CoCoRHaS) provides excellent support for creating an interesting project. For example, by viewing the maps on their website you can see how locally variable rainfall can be and track real time information on rain events. Lesson plans and educational resources are available on their website

We provide a stormwater challenge and experiments to explore the impact of nutrients from stormwater runoff on aquatic ecosystems on our High School curriculum website. These exercises can be easily adapted for Middle School students.

The model home on the student activity page was created using Google SketchUp. This is a relatively easy, intuitive 3D visualization program that we have found is suitable for Middle School students with some help from an adult. SketchUp can be downloaded for free and you can find many online tutorials and help resources. Google provides educational resources on this website. Using SketchUp advanced students can create models of their homes and make calculations of the area of impermeable surfaces for more exact estimates of runoff.


A short video is available on YouTube illustrating that what we put in the water can impact our lives If We Put Into Our Water...

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network (CoCoRHaS)

FOK High School curriculum website

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Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 3, 2012, 6:48 PM