Environmental issues

Water quality

Activities 3.1 and 3.2

Activity 3.1 - A Day in the Life of Urban Creek

Activity 3.2 - Journey Down the Drain

Activity 3.1 - A Day in the Life of Urban Creek


image: frog catching a flyThis activity graphically introduces students to various human behaviours that can contribute to stormwater pollution in an urban setting, as a creek makes its journey from the headwaters of the catchment to the sea. You may like to substitute the name of your local creek for `Urban Creek'.

Time needed: 20 minutes  print this activity as pdf

HSIE Stage 2 Outcomes

This activity meets the following syllabus outcomes:
Patterns of Place and Location ENS 2.6


Science and Technology K-6 Outcomes

This activity meets the following syllabus outcomes:
Stage 2
BE S2.1, PS S2.5

Stage 3
BE S3.1,
PS S3.5


catchment ~ gradient ~ vegetation ~ erosion ~ residential ~ industrial ~ commercial ~ sewer ~ sewerage ~ stormwater


  • large transparent container (aquarium or clear plastic box)
  • 30 small containers
  • various materials to represent pollution as outlined in the list below
  • two large glasses
  • paper towels, filters, scoops, strainers, and milk cartons with soil to ensure correct disposal of polluted water and clean-up.


  1. Label each of the small containers with a character's name from the story. Duplicate containers can be prepared to cater for all of the members in the group if necessary.
  2. Place or pour the appropriate materials into each container in accordance with the list in Table 3.1.
  3. Distribute the labelled containers to students. Draw their attention to the character they represent and ask them to listen carefully for their part in the story.
  4. Fill the aquarium with clear, clean water and place it in a prominent, visible and accessible position.
  5. Introduce the Catchment Story.
  6. Fill one large glass with water out of the aquarium, demonstrate its cleanliness and properties by pouring from one glass to another. Leave the glass aside for comparison at the end of the story.

Table 3.1 - The People in the Catchment



Veeny Spark


Vinegar (acid rain)

½ Tub


Connie Crumble


Thick muddy water

½ Tub


Scot Level


Thick muddy water with red paint

½ Tub


Gerry Grow


Baking powder

½ teaspoon


Dan Trestle


Water coloured with blue paint

½ Tub


Bob Builditup


Soil and leaves

1 cup


Col Construct



2 cups


Gill Gardener


Baking soda (pesticide)

½ cup


Bill Couch


Grass clippings

½ Tub


Nev Newly Wed

Farm Owner


½ Tub


Gerald Greedy



1 drop in full Tub


Reg Repair

Car repairs

Used oil

½ Tub


Cameron Caught-a-few


Nylon string

Tangle of line


Lorraine Leak-a Little

Water Skier

Vegetable oil

¼ cup


Barbie Que





David the Demolisher


Water and red colouring

½ Tub


Gary Guzzler

Tour Boat


Beer cans etc


Danielle Scruff

Dog Owner

Thick Muddy water

½ Tub


Urban Primary School



Chip packets etc


Sam Slob



Candy wrappers


Ed Tread


Veg oil + mud

½ Tub


Ed Tread


Cigarette butts

½ cup


Betty Busy

Home owner

Yellow water and toilet paper.

½ Tub


Warren Wood

Home owner

Brown water and toilet paper.

½ Tub

Catchment Story

I am going to tell you a story about a very important part of our environment - it is about Urban Creek, but it could just as easily be your local creek. The story talks about how each of us affects the creek's health.

A catchment includes all of the creeks and streams which run into a waterway. But the catchment also includes the land around the waterway. This means that although you and I may live 20 kilometres or even more from the creek, we are still part of the catchment. Even from this distance we can have an effect on the quality of the water in the creek.

Stormwater drains link to the local creeks. There are usually no filters in the stormwater drains and they do not go through the sewerage treatment plant. This means that whatever ends up on the ground can get washed into the stormwater drain, whether it be leaves, dirt, litter, paint or detergent, it goes straight to our local waterway. This pollution can have a serious impact on the plants and animals that live in the water and result in the creek having a degraded appearance.

Many of you have been given a cup with a name on it. When I mention that name in the story I would like you to come up and empty what is in the container into the creek catchment (the aquarium).

Our creek begins way up in the hills and flows down and around through farms, nurseries, industrial and residential areas. Everyone has an effect on the creek all the way along.

We will follow some rain as it washes over the catchment and into the creek. As the water travels down the mountain it arrives at a valley where Veeny Spark (1) is connecting electricity to a new house. The power station that produces the electricity for the region, burns large amounts of coal and can release pollutant gases into the air. These pollutants combine with moisture in the atmosphere to produce acids. Rainfall carries these acids back to the earth's surface and can pollute the river.

As the water travels down the catchment, it gathers speed and enters into a new urban development. As the water passes through, Connie Crumble (2) is doing some concreting and some of her unmixed concrete washes into the water.

The water, still flowing travels by Scot Level (3) while he is cutting bricks, and he leaves a trail of red brick dust which is washed into a drainage pipe and then into the creek. Gerry Grow (4) is also working in the area laying some turf. He waters the turf after applying fertiliser to it. After finishing painting the exterior of a house Dan Trestle (5) washes his paint brushes at a nearby tap letting the paint wash into the drain and then into the creek.

The creek now begins to wind through the suburban part of town where Bob Builditup (6) and Col the Constructor (7) are each finishing off their owner builder homes in a new subdivision. Many of the trees and shrubs have been removed and when it rains the top layer of soil is eroded and adds to the silting up of the creek. This makes the water dirty and cloudy and can harm plant and animal life in the creek. Most houses like Gill Gardener (8) in the developed parts of the town have a garden. To keep the insects away, Gill uses a range of pesticides. When she has completed her spraying she turns on the sprinkler to water the plants and the pesticides wash off into the stormwater drains and into the creek. Gill's neighbour, Bill Couch (9) has just finished mowing his lawn for the third time this month and rather than putting the grass clippings on the garden for mulch, he puts them down the stormwater drain where they are washed into the creek.

As the water passes the property of Nev Newly Wed (10), soil is washed from his front yard and the water becomes even more muddy. The trees and other plants have been removed by the builders and there is nothing to trap the soil before it goes into the creek.

Further down the creek there is an industrial area. Gerald Green (11) is one of the factory owners. He likes to use detergents to keep his equipment clean. Gerald sometimes hoses out his factory, allowing the water and detergent to wash into a gutter, which flows to the creek. In the detergent there are phosphates which can cause algal blooms. Some algae are poisonous to humans and other animals. When the algae dies and begins to rot, it uses up oxygen, which animals in the water rely on and they may suffocate as a result.

Just down the road from Gerald is Reg Car Repairs (12). Reg is doing a grease and oil change when he knocks over the drum of waste oil, which then flows down to the nearby drain.

Look how our once clean water now looks and smells.

But the journey isn't over yet. Coming up around the bend the creek empties into Urban Lagoon. Cameron Caught-a-Few (13) is fishing for Flathead off the lagoon bank. Unfortunately he leaves some fishing line behind, where it may get wrapped around a possum or pelican. Also on the lagoon Lorraine Leak-a-Little (14) is out water skiing. Lorraine has not been maintaining her ski boat and, as a result, some oil is leaking from the boat directly into the lagoon.

Barbie Que (15) is having a picnic with her family in the reserve at one end of the lagoon. They are having a lovely time, playing cricket, relaxing and having a chat. Then suddenly, a big gust of wind comes along and blows their litter into the water. There are plastic bags, a plastic ring from the milk container which birds can get stuck around their necks, and bottles which fish and other small creatures like frogs may swim into and may not be able to get out of.

Not only is this harmful to the animals, but what do you think about the appearance of the water?

Redevelopment is occurring on the opposite side of the creek. Dave the Demolisher (16) found a few drums of something that he wasn't sure of. He couldn't sell it and he would have to pay to take it to landfill or to a hazardous waste dump so he emptied it into the creek. The waste was chemicals from an old tannery.

Further down the catchment there is a boat out for the day on the lagoon. They have a few bottles of beer on board. Gary Guzzler (17) throws his bottle into the water when he is finished. He does the same with the cigarettes he is smoking.

Also in the area lives Danielle Scruff (18). Danielle takes her dog for a walk every day. The dog however often does his poo during the walk. This poo is washed into the stormwater drain when it rains and into the lagoon.

At the far edge of the lagoon, children from Urban Primary School (19) are returning home after their sports carnival. The playground is covered with litter and as they walk down the street Sam Slob (20) and his friends drop their lolly and chip wrappers in the gutter.

Ed Tread (21) is driving home from work. The roads are choked with traffic. Oil drips out of Ed's car and into the stormwater drains and sometimes he has to brake suddenly and leave rubber from his tyres on the road, which is then washed by rain down the stormwater drain and into the creek. As he stops at the traffic lights, Ed (22) flicks his cigarette butt out the car window. He does this every afternoon.

Our poor water is really starting to look very sick and the mouth of the lagoon is just ahead. There is one more pollutant that has been entering our now very dirty and unhealthy water - sewage. At Betsy Busy's (23) house, the roots of her rubber tree plants have found there way into her sewerage pipes, which have become badly cracked and are leaking. It is raining very heavily now and there is water leaking into the sewerage pipes. The pipes get overfull and start to back up causing raw sewage to flow out the sewer overflow point and into the lagoon.

The local sewage treatment plant has had to go to bypass because of the heavy rain and sewage from Warren Wood's (24) home enters the sea from the cliff outfall. The sewage is primarily treated but things like our detergents, paints, cooking oils and toilet waste are not removed in the process. This is all added to our water as it reaches the beach.

Entering the sea, our once clean water is full of oils, chemicals, litter and sewage, it looks extremely unhealthy and it doesn't smell too good either. Can you imagine what it would be like to swim in that water? Can you imagine being a fish or a plant and living in that water all the time?

This is what happens to the water in our creek. There are many things we can do to reduce the pollution in the catchment and most of them are pretty easy. If we take a look at our day to day activities I'm sure we can all make a small difference and a lot of small differences make up a big difference for the health of the catchment and the plants and animals living there - and for those of us who want to swim, fish or go boating.

Adapted from `Catchment Story', Colin Mundy, Hunter Catchment Management Trust

Activity 3.2 - Journey Down The Drain


image: frog catching a fly

This activity can be set as a do at home activity. It engages students in thinking about sewage and its treatment. A mixture is prepared to represent sewage and then students use a variety of techniques to separate different components from the mixture.

Estimated lesson time: 40 minutes over two days (additional follow-up time for growing plants)

  print this activity as pdf

HSIE Stage 2 Outcomes

This activity meets the following syllabus outcomes:
Patterns of Place and Location ENS 2.5

Science and Technology K-6 Outcomes

Stage 2
PS S2.5, INV S2.7
, DM S2.8

Stage 3
PS S3.5
, INV S3.7, DM S3.8

Student Worksheet


Every time you wash your hands, flush the toilet or wash your clothes, you're creating wastewater. Think of how much wastewater comes out of your own home. Then consider all the houses in your street, your suburb, and your city. Then consider all the industries, shops and farms. Suddenly we have got a lot of wastewater to treat and, as the population grows, so does the amount of wastewater. Indeed, in many places around Australia, water authorities are struggling to keep up with the amount of wastewater being generated by the community.

Clearly, sewage needs to be treated first to remove the useful components and harmful substances. How would you go about treating it?


sewage ~ sewer ~ sewerage ~ sludge ~ wastewater ~ effluent


What you need:

To create your own wastewater mix you will need the following equipment:

  • a jar with a lid
  • cooking oil
  • liquid soap
  • soil
  • sand
  • grass clippings
  • fertiliser
  • sticks
  • toilet paper
  • plastic bag
  • fly screen
  • blotting paper
  • eye dropper
  • filter paper
  • cotton wool
  • vinegar
  • disinfectant

What to do:

1. Make the mixture

  1. Place clean water in a jar.
  2. Add a teaspoon of the following: cooking oil, liquid soap, soil, sand, grass clippings and fertiliser. Add a few small sticks, 3 squares of toilet paper, shredded plastic, and some food scraps.
  3. Attach the lid firmly onto the jar and shake the mix vigorously for several minutes. The result isn't all that pleasant; imagine what it would be like if you added all the things you flush down the toilet plus chemicals from factories which go down the drains.

2. Make a plan

  1. Before going any further think about how you'd separate your wastewater mix.
  2. Write down a plan for separating the mixture, using the equipment from the list.

3. Try your plan out

  1. Implement your plan for separating out the `sewage mixture'.
  2. Write a brief report about what you did and the outcome of your investigation

Or try this way:

  1. Let your mixture sit for a couple of minutes. Some materials should settle to the bottom, some will float on the surface.
  2. Filter the wastewater mix through a fly screen into a bowl. If you're careful the sludge that settles at the bottom will stay in the jar and the larger floating objects will be caught in the screen.
  3. Remove the oil scum from the bowl by drawing it off with blotting paper or an eye dropper.
  4. Filter the remaining mix though filter paper or cotton. By now you should have removed all but the finest particles and the material that has dissolved in the water.
  5. Mix in some vinegar. This changes the acidity of your mix and causes some of the fine clay particles to clump together and settle out.
  6. Try growing some water plants on the remaining mix so the fertiliser (which represents unwanted nutrients and minerals in wastewater) is used up.
  7. Write a report to describe what happened.

Adapted from an activity designed by Maureen Hart, Mackellar Girls High School.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011