The Roundup: Behind a glass of water

Many California restaurants won’t automatically bring water to your table. Signs dot college campuses apologizing for brown grass. It’s all part of a plan to tackle California’s historic drought.

Understanding local water supplies is more important than ever. That’s why we’re so impressed by the work of students in Dr. Julian Fulton’s ENVS 110 Course at California State University, Sacramento. As part of our Year of Science initiative, Dr. Fulton assigned students to write Wikipedia articles about California’s water systems.

One of the impacts is a better understanding of the politics of water management in California. These students literally wrote the article on California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The article summarizes the several bills included in the 2014 act, which sought to improve the management of groundwater supplies sustainably through 2042. Somewhat unbelievably, this important topic didn’t have a Wikipedia article until students took it on.

For historical political context, student editors also created an article on the first attempt to regulate California’s water supplies, the Water Commission Act of 1913.

The students also created an article offering context about California’s policies and practices regarding water reuse. That article explores the technology, and the social and economic challenges.

They didn’t stop at the policy level. They also created resources to better understand local water supplies. That includes better information about the American River. The Maidu people relied on it for thousands of years, and it was a favored destination of the gold-digging miners in the California gold rush. Today, it’s a source of water for Sacramento. Students wrote about the American River’s neighboring bodies of water, too, such as the artificial Bushy Lake.

The nearby Sacramento River got attention too. Students expanded an article about an initiative, California Water Fix and Eco Restore, which would channel water from Sacramento to two points 30 miles away. It’s a bid to restore the surrounding ecosystem while still tapping into the river as a source of water. The article explores how water is currently carried from the site, and explores some of the controversies and politics behind the initiative.

Students in the class worked on 74 articles, contributing more than 86,000 words about California’s water to Wikipedia. These articles are coming up in Google searches, answering questions about important issues tied to California’s conservation. So far, the articles they’ve worked on have been served up more than 1 million times.

It includes better information about dams, such as the Isabella Dam and the Keswick Dam. They’ve created an article focused on mercury contamination in California’s waterways.

This knowledge is crucial for shaping the appreciation of a natural resource. These students did a brilliant job inspiring an appreciation of the role of water in California’s recreation, power, politics, and ecology.

It’s one of the reasons science matters: to be better informed about the way we live and the decisions we make. Thanks to Dr. Fulton’s course, we can all be better informed about the water we rely on to live.

Interested in seeing what your own students can do on Wikipedia? We’re still looking for courses to join our Year of Science campaign. Check out our resources, or send us an email to brainstorm ways this assignment can complement your own course goals:

Photo: North Fork of American River, by Light showOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0


3 thoughts on “The Roundup: Behind a glass of water

  1. In Italy, “restaurants won’t automatically bring water to your table” is a way to sell more bottled water.

  2. Wow thank you for acknowledging our important wikipedia article research. I am one of those students in Dr Julian’s class at Sac State this past Spring 2016. I expanded and added some contributions to the Lake Oroville Dam wiki article. I enjoyed doing it because I personally have visited that lake many times, my family has a houseboat on the lake. Last year during the hsitoric drought they almost had to remove it from the lake due to the levels dropping so low. Now the lake is at capacity but we still need to conserve water. Our weather patterns and precipitation trends are changing due to climate change. It will be an interesting future for California and us residents. Thank you again for bringing attention to our class because many students put a lot of hours into this wikipedia project.

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