What’s in the Water?

Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 1 class period
Copy articles from websites listed below.
Materials: Articles “What is the Clean Water Act”? (15 copies)
“ Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act” (15 copies) and “How Safe is My Drinking Water?” pages 4, 5 and 6 only. (30 copies)


Students will look at the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts as examples of how the federal and state governments implement public policy.

Students will be able to:
1. List the specific powers and duties the state, federal and local governments have in enforcing water quality standards.
2. Discuss how private citizens can help ensure that all levels of government are enforcing the law.

National Standards For Civics and Government
I-A. What is civic life? What is politics? What is government? Why are government and politics necessary? What purposes should government serve?
III-A. How are power and responsibility distributed, shared, and limited in the government established by the United States Constitution?
III-B. How is the national government organized and what does it do?
III-C. How are state and local governments organized, and what do they do?

Teacher Background
This lesson is designed to reinforce the concept of Federalism as introduced in the previous lesson.

Resource Websites

http://pa.essortment.com/cleanwateract_rgrl.htm article, “What is the Clean Water Act”?
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/sdwa/pdfs/25ann/fs_sdwa_understand_25.pdf: article, “Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act”
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/wot/pdfs/book_waterontap_full.pdf: “How Safe is My Drinking Water?” pages 4, 5 and 6 only.



Introduce the activity:

1. Hold up a glass of dirty water and ask if anyone would volunteer to drink it? (It is recommended that you not allow anyone to actually drink the water)
a) Ask: How can we be sure that the water we drink from our tap is not this dirty?
Students should mention the role of government—ask them to list specific government agencies that regulate our water rather than just government in general.

2. Divide the class into two groups. Give one group the article,” What is the Clean Water Act”? and give the second group the article, “Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act”. Students will discuss and record their findings to the following questions in their groups:

  • What is the problem that the act addresses?
  • What are the goals of the act?
  • List the responsibility of each of the following groups:
    State Government-
    Federal Government-
    Government Agency-

Give everyone in the class the article: “How Safe is My Drinking Water”? (copy pages 4-7 from http://www.epa.gov/safewater/wot/pdfs/book_waterontap_full.pdf) Students will read the article on their own and then answer the following questions:

1. What type of water is protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act? Bottled water, tap water?
b) What type of water is not protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act?

2. See Chart: Reported Community Water Systems Violating Maximum Containment Levels or Treatment Standards”. What % of your state’s water systems violates the maximum containment levels in 2002?
b) As a private citizen what can you do to ensure that your state enforces Clean Water Standards set by the EPA?

3. What are some ways that your drinking water can become contaminated?

1) Write three columns on the board: Federal, State, and Private Citizens.
Ask students to list the specific powers and duties each of the groups have in regulating clean water standards in the United States. Students should draw on their responses to the questions from the previous readings.

2) Discuss with the class: Why should the Federal government have a say in setting the standards for safe water in state and local communities?

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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