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Water Quality

Driving or Multi-dimensional Question:

How do soil quality and geological features affect the quality of drinking water, groundwater, and biological functions?

Unit Summary:

Students will gain an understanding of the importance of water quality for drinking and for biological functions. Students will investigate drinking water quality, geological makeup and its effect on water, and soil properties and the effect of soil quality on water quality. To culminate the activities, students will determine whether Reelfoot Lake is thriving or dying.

Hook Event:

Bottled or Tap? Should clean water be a commodity, bought and sold?
1. Introduce this idea by watching all or part of the movie Tapped (, 76 min. that looks at the bottled water industry.

2. Conduct an internet search of the Memphis Sand aquifer to understand how aquifers serve the people that live in the area.

3. Debate the necessity of water bottled from aquifers and sold.

4. (Not necessary, but you could hand out the Optional water needs checklist for students to survey at home prior to this hook activity.)

Culminating Event:

Reelfoot Lake Environmental Field Station Research Trip—The University of Tennessee at Martin Biology Department, Reelfoot Lake Environmental Field Station. Students (15 – 40 students at a time) will visit the watershed and two other sites around the lake. Water samples will be taken from each identified area and tested for dissolved oxygen and temperature, productivity, water chemistry, and soil analysis of the area. Additionally, students can observe vegetation and wildlife, and test water bugs from different sources to determine the effects of water quality. Students will collect and organize data, take photos, and then share their findings.


Science Standards:

EVSC.ESS2.5 Plan and carry out an investigation examining best management practices in water usage, agriculture, forestry, urban/suburban development, mining, or fishing and communicate findings.

EVSC.ESS2.5 Plan and carry out an investigation examining the chemical and physical properties of water and the impact of water on Earth’s topography. Analyze data and share findings.

EVSC.ETS2.2 Research and communicate information on an environmental science career. Analyze the role of society, engineering, technology, and science in that career.

Math Standards:

Reason quantitatively and use units to solve problems. Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays.

ELA and Other Standards:

9 -10.SL.PK1.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning; ensure the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

11 – 12.SL.PK1.4.
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence conveying a clear and distinct perspective so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning; address alternative or opposing perspectives; and organize and develop substance and style appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

Daily Activities

For more information on this lesson please see the Lesson Resources below

ActivitiesDescriptionResources and Materials
Activity One

Water Quality on Tap – Testing City Water vs. Well Water

Students will determine and communicate the method of testing well water vs. city water samples. Students will graph and compare results Schedule visitors from the local public water department to discuss the Water Department Water Quality Report and data sheet sent to citizens, and what that information tells.
Clean, dry containers for students to collect water Water Quality Test Strips: HACH brand pH nitrite and nitrate phosphate Software or paper to create graphs to share data Local Public Utility Board, City Water Quality Report (the one mailed to homeowners)
Activity Two

Study of Land Resource Areas in the State, concentrating on counties in our region, but discussing other regional effects on water quality—Region (counties)

Mississippi Delta (Lake, Obion), Loess Region (Obion, Weakley, Henry), Coastal Plain (Henry to Tennessee River), Highland Rim (several middle TN counties), Central Basin (several middle TN counties, very middle), Cumberland Plateau & Mountains, Appalachian Ridges and Valleys, Smokey Mountains

Have students research the effects of underground geologic features on how water is filtered, filtering out pollutants, etc.

Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) and Unit Locations map or other Tennessee Land Resource areas map from a Google search. Computers or tablets/phones to research, and share information with each other
Activity Three

Soil Quality Evaluation—Soil quality is an evaluation of how well soil does the things we need it to do, specifically how water quality is maintained or enhanced. Soil samples from regions discussed in the study of the land resource area of Tennessee will be used to test for soil quality. Students will be able to determine for themselves what type of soil best filters water as it moves through the ground.

Soil Quality Evaluation handout Various soil samples Instructional diagram for determining soil texture by feel ( (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)
Activity Four

Visitor, Career Opportunities in Environmental Biology
Students will research information on an environmental science career, including an analysis of the role of society, engineering, technology, and science in that career.

Internet access

Technology Integration: TVA water quality information:

Community PartnersContribution to Learning ExperienceContact Information
Dr. Tom Blanchard, Director
Reelfoot Lake Environmental Field Station; Professor of Biology, UTM

Tom Blanchard, contact to set up a trip to the Reelfoot Lake Field Station
Tom Blanchard, classroom visit—career possibilities in Biology

[email protected]
USDA-NRSC (Natural Resource State Conservation Office)
Public Affairs Specialist

The USDA-NRSC has a Soil Conservation District in every Tennessee county. There will be a contact able to discuss classroom visits, or even materials to share, in each county.


Obion County Soil Conservation District
Josh Richardson, DC

Union City, TN

Josh Richardson is the District Coordinator for the Obion County Soil Conservation District. He is willing to make classroom visits and also has materials that can be copied or shared with schools in the Reelfoot area.

731-885-6480 ext. 3

Capstone Presentation:

Students will organize data collected through testing and photos taken throughout the unit, including those taken during the Reelfoot Lake trip, and create a presentation to share their methods and results. Information and data shared can include any or all of the following results: location/map of Reelfoot Lake, dissolved oxygen and temperature, productivity (photosynthesis and respiration), conductivity, pH, water chemistry, zooplankton, vegetation, water quality and its effects on macroinvertebrates.

Lesson Resources