Will there be enough freshwater?

University of California Santa Cruz National Geographic Education The Concord Consortium
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Interactive Simulation , Model , Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.




In a series of five activities, students will explore the question, "Will there be enough freshwater?" Students explore how water moves above and below Earth's surface by using interactive computational models. Students use NOAA data through a series of interactive modules to answer questions. Students are instructed to answer questions in boxes embedded in the website. Teachers will need to set up a free account with High-Adventure science in order to print out student responses. Additional information for teachers on how to use this activity can be accessed at: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/lesson/will-there-be-enough-fresh-water/.


In the first activity, Availability of Freshwater, students are introduced to computational models and begin to use them through the availability of freshwater interactive to answer the question of distribution of water and how water cycles. In the second activity, Using Freshwater, students examine maps to determine distribution of freshwater sources and how humans use them. The third activity, Groundwater Movement, has students learning how water moves through sediments and then using interactive models, determine the best ways of extracting groundwater with the fewest environmental impacts. With the fourth activity, Groundwater and Surface Water, students explore how the introduction of wells affects the water table using a computer simulation. In the final activity, Using Groundwater Wisely, students use interactive models to explore the relationships between infiltration and recharge in both natural and urbanized areas. They also explore how humans have altered the natural flow of water.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-6 Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of Earth systems to be considered are the hydrosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, and/or biosphere. An example of the far-reaching impacts from a human activity is how an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide results in an increase in photosynthetic biomass on land and an increase in ocean acidification, with resulting impacts on sea organism health and marine populations.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include running computational representations but is limited to using the published results of scientific computational models.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In activities four and five, students use computer modeling to show how humans are changing the water cycle. In Activity 4, students make predictions, based on modeling, to explore changes to water tables and surface water. Students are tasked with determining what would happen to surface and underground water levels if wells are placed close to or further from a stream. They are asked to develop ways to reduce the impact of removing water from the area. In Activity 5, students explore infiltration and recharge in both urban and natural settings. Students use a computer simulation to explore ways to allow for recharge of aquifers and transfer of water from different areas.

HS-ESS3-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of key natural resources include access to fresh water (such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater), regions of fertile soils such as river deltas, and high concentrations of minerals and fossil fuels. Examples of natural hazards can be from interior processes (such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes), surface processes (such as tsunamis, mass wasting and soil erosion), and severe weather (such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts). Examples of the results of changes in climate that can affect populations or drive mass migrations include changes to sea level, regional patterns of temperature and precipitation, and the types of crops and livestock that can be raised.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In Activity 2, they begin by brainstorming the various ways we use freshwater. Students explore freshwater distribution, direct and indirect uses, and supplying water for people

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Not only are students being asked to use a model to illustrate and predict relationships between components of a system, they are also being asked to use a model to predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems. In the first activity, students use models to analyze how water flows through a system. The second activity, students use an interactive to discuss pros and cons of dams. The third activity has students using another interactive model to explore how water moves through rocks and determine where the best aquifers are located using data from the model. The fourth activity has students use an interactive to see what happens to groundwater reserves when the water table is affected. In the final activity, students use an interactive to analyze how water is cycled differently in urban versus rural areas.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In the first activity, students watch a video which discusses human population and water use. A hydrogeologist discusses how we use water and how that affects quality and quantity of water. In the video, she discusses that we live along coasts but source our water from the ground. The second activity has students analyze population growth and water-use graphs. While human impact and use, as well as the ways we have changed our use of water, is discussed, no strong correlation is made to location of water and human society. Teachers could bring this out more by prompting students to explore where higher populations are and how much freshwater is accessible in that region. There are several readings teachers could also present to students including: http://environment.yale.edu/publication-series/documents/downloads/0-9/107Bernstein.pdf and http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/salton/PopFreshwaterSources.html

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Throughout the five activities, students are trying to solve the question, "will there be enough freshwater?" They are exploring the water cycle and human effects on the water cycle. By examining how freshwater is deposited and how we access and use that water, students try to explore ways we can manage freshwater usage.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students look at how water is replenished in aquifers by the porosity and permeability of rocks. They explore how changes in local areas can have larger impacts. This is mainly done in activity four, groundwater and surface water. They look at a changing pool during different times of year. They continue looking at how a stream is affected by placing wells based on where they think there would be the least amount of impact. Finally, students work a case study of the Santa Cruz river and how groundwater pumps and population increases led to the river drying up.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students look at changes to groundwater and water tables as a result of human consumption of freshwater. They also investigate the water cycle and how freshwater is replenished. Students explore dams and their effects as well, showing how some changes cannot be reversed.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The interactives in this unit are designed to have students blend all three dimensions of NGSS in order to make sense of the human impacts to freshwater. Students are provided opportunities to develop their own ideas of how to reduce impacts to freshwater use by simulations. Students then have to explain why they did what they did to reduce impacts and explain the results of the simulation. The unit builds understanding through building understanding of the water cycle and the various ways the cycle can be impacted by both naturally occurring and human impacts.

  • Instructional Supports: This unit has students analyze graphical data, simulations, and reading for information to blend together the three dimensions of NGSS. Students have to use the information in order to build their understanding of how use of a natural resource, like freshwater, can be impacted in negative ways, sometimes with irreversible consequences. Students are exposed to various phenomena which gives opportunities to tie into their lives. The questions used throughout the interactives require students to show understanding by probing for their reasoning of their answers. Also included in the additional information for teachers link (http://education.nationalgeographic.org/lesson/will-there-be-enough-fresh-water/) are tips and modifications which include possible modifications teachers can use as a whole class or with groups of students if they are struggling.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Note - in order to view suggested answers, teachers must create a free account at High-Adventure Science. Through creation of this account, teachers can generate reports, gain access to pre/post tests, access answer keys, and track classroom progress. Teachers are able to see real-time data of student progress. Students are able to apply their new knowledge in a variety of ways through embedded questions, quizzes, and activities.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students use technology through embedded videos, graphs, and interactive simulations to study impacts on freshwater availability through human use. Students answer questions in boxes or by multiple choices in the various activities. A thing to note is that for additional instructions on simulations, students should click the “About” button. Data is automatically saved and answers can be accessed by the instructor.