When the small town of Russell, Kansas entered Stage 4 Water Restriction in August 2012, the community was facing serious water supply shortages. Russell's 4,000 residents rely on two sources for their water, so when the first became unusable, the city was forced to rely almost exclusively on their secondary water source.
Russell has made several moves toward increased water conservation, including providing citizens with free low flow shower heads. However, it would take involvement from the entire city in order to make a lasting impact on conserving the water supply.
Conservation Starts with Education
In May of 2013, the township awarded Ruppenthal Middle School a $2,400 grant to implement a new water conservation education program for middle school science classes. Sara Krug was an aide in the science room at Ruppenthal Middle School in Russell. With a background in environmental education, Krug quickly volunteered to help spearhead the program. As the struggle to conserve water increased, Krug recognized an opportunity to be proactive in the education and advocacy of water conservation.
"It's critical to educate our youngest citizens about the community's water shortage and teach specific steps to address the issue so that water conservation remains a priority in our daily lives," Krug said.
The grant helped Ruppenthal fund hands-on activities for students that reinforce problem solving, critical thinking and other skills as children learn about water conservation. Students learn practical methods they can implement at home, such as repurposed dish water and rain barrel usage. In order to help students take the water conservation skills they learn at school and apply them at home, Ruppenthal distributed conservation kits from AM Conservation Group to the middle school students.
The water conservation kits include a shower timer, sink aerator, toilet tabs to check for leaks, toilet tummy and a water wheel that shows some ideas for conservation. Each of Ruppenthal's 200 middle school students (sixth through eighth grade) will receive a kit.
Learning to Conserve
The water conservation education program takes students on the journey through the water cycle and teaches Ruppenthal students exactly where their water comes from.
"Some students do use well water, but most live in town. What most didn't know was that the city water comes from a long way away. Our water goes into a small river from another town, and we essentially get what's leftover. When students began to realize this, they were better able to understand why water conservation is so vitally important," Krug said.
Students also completed at-home water audits, which measured their water use by tracking habits such as if a student shuts the water off when brushing their teeth or how long they take to shower. These audits helped students to realize how much water they (and their families) were using at home, and where they could improve.
"Students are excited about what has already been done, such as the rain barrels, and have shared different ways their parents have been involved in increasing water conservation, like installing new toilets," Krug said.
The Effects of Improved Water Conservation
Russell is located in an arid part of Kansas where the water supply is not dependable. During last fall's city council meeting, an emergency contact was appointed to turn off the pumps when and if the town's water supply runs dry. Thankfully, that did not occur.
The city has taken great strides in securing more water rights and encouraging conservation. Krug says that the numbers she has seen through city council show an average of nearly 100 gallons of water a day used per household, a significant decrease from the once high of 165 gallons per day in the heat of July.
Continuing to Conserve
Although the numbers are encouraging, Krug stresses the importance of continued education and advocacy for water conservation across Russell, starting with expanding the water conservation kit program to elementary school students in pre-k to fifth grade.
"Early education on water conservation and getting families involved are the first steps. We hope the water conservation kits will encourage families together to conserve more, and will provide an inexpensive way to conserve more water," Krug said.
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