The sun was high overhead as we stood in the open, slowly baking in the hundred- degree heat, which was abnormally hot for late October, even by southern California standards. It was late in the afternoon of day three of our expedition, and we weren’t sure what to expect as we got out of the van.
As one of 26 middle school teachers participating in EarthEcho International’s Water by Design Expedition, part of an annual program sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation that leverages exploration and discovery to bring STEM education alive, I had been ferried about this bustling metropolitan area to learn how Angelenos use and manage their water. We were in good company, joined by various scientists, experts, and explorer and EarthEcho Founder, Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
Our destination was the terminus of the Los Angeles aqueduct, near the Van Norman Bypass Reservoir in Sylmar. Try to picture several hundred cubic feet of water per second cascading–no, raging–through a 12-foot diameter cement channel down the hillside and then leveling off in front of us. The snowpack in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas that feeds the aqueduct was abundant last winter, and the torrent of meltwater that had traveled over 400 miles to reach its destination was an astounding sight. I knew that I could use this powerful image with my students, along with the story of the aqueduct’s construction, as an engaging example of how people can engineer solutions to complex, real-world problems.
Being from Michigan, I can appreciate large quantities of fresh water, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and learned about in California: the commitment to conservation, the challenges of desalination, advanced water purification that turns wastewater into drinkable water in a matter of hours, and—most of all—the engineering marvel called the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This expedition changed the way that I think about water on a global scale, and it has changed the way I will teach my students about our rights and responsibilities regarding our freshwater resources.