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We’re All Downstream (FBCEC)

Laboratory and Hands-on Activities - General
Participants will propose hypothetical land development on Crooked Creek. They will be given a section of land along the creek to develop however they wish. Point and nonpoint source pollution will be considered, and participants should have a better sense of how a stream ties human actions together.
Recommended SettingIndoor or outdoor classroom
LocationFred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484
Duration45 minutes - 1 hour
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 24
  • Distinguish between point and nonpoint source pollution.
  • Design a land development.
  • Understand how land development in one area will affect other landowners.
Key Terms*

Nonpoint source pollution

Point source pollution


  • Laminated pieces of white construction paper with a section of the creek drawn on them. The pieces should fit like a puzzle to represent a large section of the creek. They should also be numbered to help reconstruct the map later.
  • Washable markers
  • Packing peanuts, confetti, dried beans, paper clips

Pollution is everyone’s problem because, regardless of safeguards, these will be offset if some pollute. Pollution in any watershed ultimately affects those downstream. For this reason, landowners have an ethical responsibility to avoid negatively impacting the environment.

  1. Pass the paper out in random order. Tell the participants that each piece of paper represents approximately 50 to 100 acres along Crooked Creek, and they are the owner. Tell them they may develop it any way they like or leave it alone. Allow them 15 - 20 minutes to “develop” their land using dry erase markers to draw what they would like to build.
  2. When participants have completed their drawings, ask them to look in the upper-left-hand corner of their property for a number. Explain that each piece is part of a puzzle. Have the participant with the No. 1 piece come forward and explain how he/she developed the land and used the water. Tape the picture to the wall.
  3. Continue through the group until all pictures are arranged in the correct order on the wall. Ask No. 1 to stand in front of the group. Ask the group to identify any of No. 1’s actions that polluted or added materials to the waterway. If he or she did, give No. 1 some packing peanuts, paper clips, etc., to symbolize the pollution. Also, gather one or two personal belongings (like shoes) from him or her as a form of pollution and have No. 1 hold them.
  4. The amount of packing peanuts and personal belongings depends on the amount of pollution the individual contributed. Continue through the rest of the group. When all the participants are lined up holding onto their “pollution,” have the first person pass their “pollution” downstream to the next. Continue passing until all the pollution ends up with the last person. Have the person holding all the “pollution” place it in the middle of the group.
  5. Discuss how the pollution all ended up being someone else’s problem, no matter how careful they were when they developed their land. Have each person remove his/her belongings from the pile one at a time, leaving only the packing peanuts, paper clips, etc., behind.
  6. Explain that what they removed from the pollution pile represents point source pollution. Point source pollution can be traced to the source. Examples are oil spills from parking lots and chemicals from a factory. The packing peanuts represent nonpoint source pollution. Nonpoint source pollution cannot be traced. Examples are sedimentation from erosion, urban run-off and agricultural run-off.
  7. Discuss the sources of pollution in the participants’ pictures. Determine if it was point source or nonpoint source pollution. How could the pollution that entered the river be minimized? Re-emphasize that we all live downstream and that pollution is everyone’s problem.
  • Have the participants come up with alternative developments while still keeping their main idea for the land. Encourage them to find other energy sources that are less polluting or alternative ways to deal with the pollutants they create.
  • After the lesson, participants can examine the large aerial maps of Crooked Creek and evaluate where point and nonpoint sources of pollution might occur.
  • Distinguish between point and nonpoint source pollution and give at least two examples of each.
  • List several things to consider before developing land.
  • Explain why pollution is everyone’s problem
  • Dobson, Clive and Gregor Gilpin Beck (1999). Watersheds – A Practical Handbook for Healthy Water, Firefly Books, Ltd., Buffalo, NY.
  • Murdoch, Tom and Martha Cheo with Kate O’Laughlin (2001). Streamkeeper’s Field Guide – Watershed Inventory and Stream Monitoring Methods, Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.

Nonpoint source pollution – caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground picking up natural and man-made pollutants and depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and underground sources of drinking water

Point source pollution – identifiable source of pollution discharge such as a pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack

Pollution – introduction of contaminants into an environment causing instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem

Watershed – area bounded by a hydrologic system draining into a body of water within which all living things are linked by this common water source