Waterloo and local community celebrate 20 years of water education

Last week thousands of elementary students from Waterloo, Kitchener, Guelph, and Cambridge discovered the importance of water in their lives and how their actions impact water sources around them.

Motion of the Ocean exhibitCelebrating its 20th anniversary, the Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival (WWCGF) brought together industry, government, community groups and educators, including the University of Waterloo, for a week of hands-on activities focused on the significance of water conservation, protection, science, and ecology.

“The WWCGF is a vital partnership for reaching a broad school-age audience and addressing key water messaging. There is no other way we could possibly reach 5,000 students in a single week with extended hands-on learning,” says Dan Meagher, Region of Waterloo, Water Services.

This year, our Faculty of Science’s Earth Sciences Museum, a proud partner since the Festival’s inception in 1994, along with the Ecohydrology Research Group and Groundwater, Geochemistry and Remediation Group, organized a series of nine hands-on water activities and displays. These activations covered water related topics such as: wetlands and erosion, the Great Lakes, aquifers and aquitards, motion of the ocean, porosity and permeability, snow rocks and the Then & Now exhibit – an exhibit made up of 200 recycled plastic bottles showing how many litres of water the average person uses in a single day.

Then and Now exhibit

“The exhibit focuses on the oceans but it shows the impact of how our day-to-day routines affect water both locally and globally in our aquatic ecosystems,” says Earth Sciences Museum Curator Corina McDonald.

Child engaging in Snow Rocks exhibitTurning two environmental spills and fines into an opportunity for outreach, a small group lead by Waterloo Science alumnus Peter Gray (B.Sc., ’87) with the support of the University of Waterloo, two initial industrial companies, drillers, regional and provincial government, health units, environmental consultants local businesses, conservations authorities and staff from the Agricultural Museum in Milton created the first Canadian Children’s Groundwater Festival.

After two years, the idea has spread to communities in Waterloo, York, Durham and Peel Regions. Now, heading into its 21st consecutive year, there are festivals in more than 27 communities across Ontario. 

“This [festival] couldn’t have happened without the support and leadership of our partners or the strength of our volunteers,” says Peter Gray, President of the Children’s Water Education Council.

The WWCGF has reached more than 80,000 participants, with the help from 9,000 plus volunteers and more than 50 hands-on, engaging and fun activities.

“After 20 years, elementary student participants have come back as volunteers, and after graduating university and working in the water or environmental fields, return as members of the local festival steering committee,” says Gray.

Now that’s full circle – just like water makes its way through the water cycle!

Children engaging in the Wetlands exhibit

Our university’s Earth Sciences Museum received a commemorative poster for their partnership and involvement with WWCGF. Curator Emeritus Peter Russell and Science alumnus Peter Gray were both honoured for their 20 years of volunteer work with the WWCGF with a 2015 Volunteer Service Award from the Ontario Government.

The 2015 WWCGF ran from Monday May 25th to Friday May 29th at the Waterloo Region Museum.