pollution can occur in a lake found near a subdivision where high
levels of phosphorus and/or nitrogen from fertilizer runoff from
people’s lawns have entered the waterbody, or in a stream near a
cattle farm where runoff from grazing areas may have unsafe levels
of harmful bacterium such as E. coli.
Using these observations of possible pollution sources, scientists can formulate hypotheses about what type of test will be
needed to evaluate water quality in an area. Scientists must consider both the direct and indirect effects of pollutants. For example, run-off from a major highway may cause elevated levels of
gasoline byproducts to enter the waterway, directly impacting
the survival of plants and animals there. On the other hand,
dumping superheated water from a factory cooling operation
may not directly endanger local organisms, but can reduce the
dissolved oxygen levels in a river, again impacting the aqua life
present. Understanding how activities such as agriculture or
industry can affect river health in a watershed is an important part
of land-use planning (Wang, 2001). During this activity, the students will undertake the role of a scientist working at an environmental consulting firm who must evaluate data at multiple
different steps and explain their decision-making process when
evaluating how different pollutants associated with different
land-use types could affect water quality.
Environmental Consulting Scenario Game
This scenario-based game will require a one-hour class period. It can
be integrated into lesson plans exploring water quality analyses and
societal impacts, or the instructor can provide the students with
Supplemental Materials to review either in a prior class or as a
take-home assignment. This activity should be an iterative process,
allowing the students to make initial assumptions, evaluate results,
modify their views, and repeat until arriving at the correct conclusion. Informational handouts discussing water quality testing methodology and all of the scenario-based game materials below can be
found in the Supplemental Materials, though teachers may provide
additional materials on their own.
• Map of proposed locations (Figure 1)
• Letter explaining the scenario and the goals of the game
• List of the acceptable limits for water quality test results
• Fee schedule for each water quality test with test descriptions
• Testing results sheets which should be separated into labeled
• Fake money
Assemble one packet for each team containing the map of proposed
locations, hiring letter, list of the acceptable limits for water quality
test results, a fee schedule with test descriptions, a worksheet, and
game cash. Compile multiple copies, at least one for each team, of
test results into labeled manila envelopes.
1. Begin the scenario by discussing with the entire class how
human activities and land-use types can influence water quality. Encourage the students to think critically about the effects
of different land-use methods on watershed health. Which
pollutants are found near large cities? What chemicals would
you expect to find in your neighborhood stream? What sort
of dangers could be found in agricultural run-off?
2. After this quick review, divide students into groups of 2–4 individuals. Give each team one packet containing the scenario
information, worksheet, a map, and $4500 in game cash.
3. Allow the students time to review the packet and enclosed
materials. Ask the students to develop hypotheses about
potential impacts affecting each of the proposed locations
and record them on the worksheets provided. Encourage
teams to strategically choose the most important water quality tests for each site first.
4. After approximately 10 minutes of discussion within their
teams, allow the students to begin purchasing test results from
the teacher. The teams do not need to purchase all of the
results at once, but should strategically choose a few, review
the results, and modify their assumptions and hypotheses.
All but one site (in the proposed scenario, this is Site D) has
at least one water quality parameter that does not fall within
the acceptable limits. The students will continue ordering tests
Figure 1. Map of the four proposed locations for the new