Kassy Palacios, a fifth grader at Tara Elementary School, grabbed a bottle and began to spray the watershed model in front of her.
She and some of her classmates used the spray bottles to simulate rain. They watched as the water washed away the spices that represented fertilizer, pesticides, excrement and oil. It all flowed into the body of water that represented Lake Manatee.
Before their eyes, they saw the water change color from the impacts of what represented the pollutants and contaminants.
Although it was a plastic model with toy vehicles, houses, trees and buildings, the students were able to see the potential real-world impacts of how pollutants and contaminants can impact a local water source.
The model was a part of a presentation from Manatee County Utilities on water conservation and its importance.
Tina Moutoux, a water conservation outreach specialist with Manatee County Utilities, said the model helps students see how small actions can impact water sources.
“When we see trash on the ground, we don’t see it flowing into our lake, we don’t see it going into a water treatment plant that has to be cleaned and filtered,” she said. “The cleaner we can keep our water, the less treatment it needs. It saves money. It saves time. It means less chemicals and treatment in our water.”
Moutoux said teaching youth about water conservation is vital.
“It’s incredibly important because the water we have is it, we only have what we have,” Moutoux said. “With our population growing, we need to be more conservative. Everybody wants to keep building and expanding, so we need to find ways we can be more careful and ways we can cut back.”
Students were surprised to hear some of the facts regarding water usage.
When Moutoux asked students to guess how much water goes out of a faucet in one minute, students’ responses varied. They guessed one gallon, five gallons and seven gallons.
The answer: four gallons per minute.
Moutoux said in 2023, each person in Manatee County used 91 gallons of water per day.
Palacio was amazed. She couldn’t believe every person used that much water.
Fifth grader Brantlee Saylor said it was interesting to hear that baths use about 70 gallons of water compared to a 5-minute shower that only uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. He was pleased knowing his short showers were helping with water conservation.
Palacios said she was shocked to learn only 1% of water is used for drinking, making water conservation crucial. She hopes people will change how much water they use and plans to start implementing ways she can save water herself including shorter showers and picking up and properly disposing of the excrements from the animals on her family’s farm.
Moutoux said anyone can help with water conservation. The key is starting small, whether that’s turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers or even simply paying attention to where water is being used.
“We take (water) for granted,” she said. “We turn on the faucet and water just flows out and we don’t even think about it. Kids are so observant, and they notice everything.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.