Caring For The Kaw Part 3: Know Your Watershed

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. The student activity can be found by on Caring for the Kaw Part 3: Know Your Watershed

Overview: Students will learn how to orient themselves within their watershed, and where their water and electricity come from.

Suggested grades: 6-9

Objective: Create a sense of “ownership” of the river by learning that they live in a watershed. By understanding that their activities within the watershed impact the river students will understand that they have a personal stake in reducing pollution and improving the ecological functioning of the Kansas River.

Materials: We provide Google Maps on the student activity page that can be used for this lesson. You can access this map on Google Maps by clicking this link. You can also download the kml file for the map from the attachment section on the bottom of this page and import it into either Google Maps or Google Earth to create your own map. Instructions for Google Maps can be found by clicking here. You must be 14 or older to create a Google Account, and you cannot create and save a map of your own without a Google Account. Please see Google's online safety website for information about keeping kids safe on the internet.

There are a variety of other lessons using Google Maps and Google Earth on our High School curriculum website that can easily be adapted for Middle School students.

Our main websites have a number of different sections that you can draw on to expand this lesson. For example, Life on the Kaw provides information on the history and local culture of communities in the Kansas River valley. Our County Maps section provides additional detail on the communities along the Kaw, as well as photo tours of the river-- this can be used as a virtual field trip to see what the river looks like near your home. (The material on our main website is generally written at the 9th grade reading level, so most of the content should be manageable for Middle School students with a little help.)

For advanced students, we have a website that provides scientific data on the river. The Kansas River Inventory website can be used to illustrate many different ways to study environmental impacts and conservation biology. It is not as user friendly as the other websites, and most Middle School students will need adult help to understand the content. The same is true of our Stormwater website, which provides technical information about stormwater management, but could be helpful for answering questions that come up during the lesson. For example, we have a detailed section on rain gardens which includes photos.

Models can be used to show how water moves through a watershed; an excellent and easy to use model is available from EnviroScapes but it is also possible to make a simple and inexpensive model by draping a plastic sheet over cans or rocks.

Lecture: No matter where you live in the world, you live in a "watershed." You're sitting in a watershed right now. A watershed is bordered by higher ground, and since water runs downhill a watershed can be defined as the area of land that catches rain and snow which then drains or seeps into a common point. Watersheds can drain into a marsh, stream, river, lake, ocean, or even into the groundwater. Homes, farms, ranches, forests, small towns, big cities and open land can all be part of watersheds.

Watersheds are nested one into another—the Delaware River watershed is nested within the Kansas River watershed, and the Kansas River watershed is nested within the Missouri River watershed. Likewise, the Missouri River watershed is nested within the Mississippi River watershed.

If you live in a place like Kansas it can be hard to see the boundaries of a watershed because there are no big mountains to define the boundaries—our watersheds tend to be large and relatively flat, but they still exist. Most people in the northern half of the state live in the Kansas River/Lower Republican watershed. The Kansas river is formed by the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers at Junction City and flows in a general easterly direction through Geary and Riley counties, forms the boundary between Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties, crosses Shawnee, forms the boundary between Jefferson and Douglas, and of Wyandotte and Johnson counties in part, and empties into the Missouri river at Kansas City. From Junction City to the mouth in Kansas City is about 171 miles. The Kansas River system is the longest prairie based river in the world- it arises on the Great Plains and has no connection to the mountains, unlike the Arkansas River and the Missouri River.

The Kansas River drains an area of 36,000 square miles in Kansas, which is almost the entire northern half of Kansas, as well as 11,000 square miles in Nebraska, and 6,000 square miles in Colorado. That is 53,000 square miles in all. Interactive maps showing where watershed boundaries occur in the Kansas River watershed can be found in the River Atlas on the Friends of the Kaw website.

We provide a short slideshow with some basic information that you can use to discuss watersheds and nutrient runoff.
Activity: Using the Google Map, locate where your school is in relationship to the Kansas River. Determine how water might make its way from your schoolyard to the nearest creek, and then to the Kaw. Try to determine where the water that comes out of your tap is coming from, and where the water that goes down the drain will go—you can find this information for towns along the Kaw by clicking on the blue map markers. You can also find out the names of watersheds by clicking on the outlines and looking at the pop-ups.

Encourage the student to explore the watershed using Terrain View to visualize elevations, and Satellite and Earth View to locate interesting landforms or structures. You may be prompted to download a plug-in to enable Earth View. Using Earth View you can access Street View, which provides a ground level photographic view of different towns (it is not available for the river itself).

Note: you must be 14 or older to create a Google Account, and you cannot create and save a map of your own without a Google Account. Please see Google's online safety website for information about keeping kids safe on the internet.

We provide tips for map making at a map making at a more advanced level: Google Map Help

If you are interested in using Google Earth to explore the map you can use the kml file in the Attachment section and open it in Google Earth. Instruction in using Google Earth is provided in the next lesson, Mapping Your Connection To The Kaw. Note: the elevation profile in the Watershed lesson was created using Google Earth, and you can use it to explore the terrain in any part of your watershed (instructions are in the next lesson).


A short video illustrating that what we put in the water can impact our lives is available on YouTube

 Map Tutorial

County Atlas

River Inventory

Life on the Kaw


Additional Map Labs

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Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 3, 2012, 6:49 PM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 3, 2012, 11:22 AM