Mary Miller, UCLA History-Geography Project

Mary Miller, UCLA History-Geography Project
1. Water tape—A good way to illustrate available freshwater. Post on the wall a strip of
paper 100 inches long, marking 97.2% as salt water, 2.15% as glaciers and ice caps, .31%
as groundwater, deep in the earth, and .34% as available fresh water in lakes,
rivers/streams, and wells.
2. Wetland model—Create an experimental model showing the value of wetlands. There
is a good lesson with instructions for the model at
3. “China’s Sorrow—Ours Too”—See the activity and text excerpt below, which deal
with the issue of levees/ dikes.
4. Water in the Middle East—Concerns over access to fresh water from the Jordan and
Tigris/Euphrates rivers have long been an aspect of Middle East conflicts. Extensive
information on the Jordan is available at
and on the Tigris/Euphrates at
5. Colorado River Basin Map and worksheet—National Geographic produced an
extensive map on the “Colorado River Basin: Lifeline for an Arid Land”; contact me at
the e-mail address above, and I can send a copy (supply limited). An accompanying
worksheet is below.
6. There are lists of online water resources and a bibliography at the end of this packet.
1. Ask the students why rivers would have been so important as trade developed. [Boats
carry more things, heavier things, and do it faster than wagons and pack animals.] Point
out that even today, the Yangtze River (Chiang Jiang) is called “China’s Main Street”
and that the big cities developed for the most part where river trade was carried on.
2. Show a picture of the Yellow River (Huang He) and ask them why they think it is that
color. Show them loess soil and a picture of China’s loess plateau/highlands. They’ll
figure out that the soil goes into the river. Tell them that so much loess soil goes into the
river that the yellow coloring can be seen as far as 100 miles out into the Yellow Sea.
3. Ask what would happen to the bottom of the river, to the water level, and to the
surrounding fields with all that soil in the river. Ask for a solution to the problems; read
“China’s Sorrow” (below) about the dikes and problems they caused.
4. Remind them of Santayana’s quote—“those who cannot remember the past are
doomed to repeat it.”—and tell them that they will now do an activity showing how
history is repeated.
Assignment-Imagine that it is early in this century. Population is growing along the
Mississippi River, and people are angry at being flooded out year after year. The federal
government has proposed building embankments (called levees) to prevent the flooding.
Write a letter to your senator explaining some of the likely problems, using China as an
example. Use proper business letter form.
5. References-There have been many recent articles on wetlands and levees this year
(e.g. “Assault on levee gets underway” in the May 3 Los Angeles Times). You may also
find archived articles from the summer of 1993, when similar floods damaged the
Mississippi basin. For example, a Nature Conservancy magazine article in the
November/December. 1993 issue noted that “the myriad dams, levees and straightenings
aimed at shackling the Mississippi have backfired, restraining the beneficial floods and
inviting the catastrophic ones. Eighty percent of the wetlands that once soaked up its
floodwaters have been plowed or paved.” And a Los Angeles Times article on July 17,
1993, quoted environmentalists who recommended that “the river be united with its
floodplain, and that the levees be moved farther from the river’s edge…Instead of trying
to prevent farms from flooding...the government should anticipate that it will happen
from time to time and compensate the owners for their crop losses when it does.”
The early Chinese on the Yellow Plain found it difficult to live in an area where
the river kept changing its course. So they built dikes of earth, one on each side of the
river, to keep the Hwang Ho [Huang He or Yellow River] in place. Building these dikes
solved one problem for the farmers. But it created another problem for them.
The Hwang Ho was no longer able to spread its load of mud in a thin layer over a
large area. Instead, it spread its mud in a thick layer over a narrow area. This raised the
river bed so that when a great flood came the river flowed over the dikes and across the
farmers’ fields. The farmers built the dikes higher. After a while the river again raised
its bed and overflowed. The farmers built the dikes higher still. And so it went, on and
on and on, through the centuries. Today the river flows from 10 to 40 feet above the land
outside the dikes.
Another problem arises when the Hwang Ho breaks through the dikes in one spot
or another as it does about every second year. Because the river flows on a ridge, the
water cannot drain back. Instead it remains on then land until it evaporates. This
sometimes takes as long as three years. So in addition to destroying growing crops, a
Hwang flood prevents farmers from planting new crops. Is it any wonder that the river is
known as “China’s Sorrow”?
-from The Story of China, Greenblatt and Chu
Questions to ask before handing out the map:
1-Much of the Southwest US is quite dry (arid or semi-arid). Where does most of our
water come from?
2-What is the main use of California’s water and what are some other uses of our water?
3-What could government do to encourage limits on water use?
Use the map to check your answers-#1 is on the “Lifeline for an Arid Land” side, #2 is
on both sides, and #3 is on the “Balancing a Limited Supply with Increasing Demand”
Now use the “Balancing a Limited Supply with Increasing Demand” side to answer these
1-What does “maf” mean?
2-Why is there a problem with the water sharing agreement made in 1922?
3-What is expected to happen to water supplies in our area by 2060?
Governments sometimes try to encourage behaviors with rewards and sometimes try to
discourage behaviors by punishing or penalizing them. Read the Water Conservation
section on the “Balancing a Limited Supply with Increasing Demand” side, and write a
proposal to create a flyer that a water company could include with each bill promoting
one of the changes in water consumption listed in that section. Will you use rewards or
punishments to convince people? Explain why you think your approach is best.
1. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has useful materials on water
conservation, the crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and water quality as well as
an extensive education section for students and teachers at all levels.
2. See the Green LA and Community Involvement (particularly “LADWP in the
Schools” on the dropdown menu) sections on the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power website at
3. See the Newsroom tab at the California Department of Water Resources site at for a Photo Library and Water Education Materials links.
4. The Heal the Bay site at has a “For Educators” section (click at
the top) where you can arrange for speakers, field trips, and free curriculum resources.
5. You can hear Langston Hughes speak about and recite his poem “The Negro Speaks of
Rivers” at the site--
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Books on Southern California Water Issues
 The Seven States of California: A Natural and Human History, Philip Fradkin-A
sort of California travel journal, contains a lengthy chapter on “The Profligate
Province” focusing on the LA River
 The Water Seekers, Remi Nadeau-Has sections on “The Owens Valley War” and
“The Colorado River Fight”
National Geographic Materials
 The April, 2010 issue is entirely devoted to the theme of last year’s Geography
Awareness Week theme of “Freshwater” and contains a poster on “World
 The associated website at has the following
o “Learn about Freshwater”-Educational resources including mapmaker kits
o “Read about Freshwater”-Includes a booklist for all grades
o “Interact with Freshwater”-Films and activities
o “Protect Freshwater”-Ways for students to take action
o “Host a Freshwater Event”-Planning and publicity materials
California Geographic Alliance’s Student Atlas—“California, A Changing State”
 This gorgeous online atlas at has many waterrelated maps and associated lesson plans.