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Where's the Water?

We all know that water comes from the tap – but how does it get to the tap? Where does it go after it goes down the drain? Become a detective and retrace the steps that water takes before it gets to your house and after it leaves.

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  • Do you know what a watershed is?
  • What watershed do you live in?
  • What supplies will you need for this activity?
  • Why should we think about where our water comes from and where it goes when we’re done with it?  


Activity 1: What’s my watershed? 

  • Start by finding out which watershed you live in – head outside and look for some clues. If it has rained recently or there is melting snow, you can follow actual water. Otherwise, just imagine. Here’s what you can look for:
    • Water soaking into the ground in natural areas – this is a natural part of the water cycle.
    • Paved areas where water cannot soak into the ground where man made features like storm drains may be found.
    • Bodies of water like ponds, rivers, creeks, lakes, etc.


Activity 2: A draining adventure:

  • Storm drains take any water that fall on paved surfaces and cannot soak in and transport the water to another area such as a creek, lake or river.
    • Are there any bodies of water near you? The storm water probably goes to the nearest source. Use a map to try to find the nearest body of water. If possible, use Google Streetview or walk to the body of water to see if you can find a pipe that directs storm water into the body of water. Is there wildlife in the area? Is this area used by people?
    • These storm drains bring water right from the street to the body of water, without cleaning it, because rain water or snow melt are typically clean. Do you think other things might be getting into the drain? Could this be bad?
    • Take a look around your street – is there anything bad that could be entering the natural body of water? Look for things like garbage, car oil, construction sites, etc. 

Activity 3: Where does it come from? 

  • Where does the water inside your home come from? In a city, it likely comes from a nearby river or lake that goes through a processing plant before getting sent through pipes to your house. In rural areas, it may come from a well.
  • Use a map to figure out which body of water your tap water comes from. It might not be obvious, so feel free to look online to figure out where your local water treatment plant is located.
  • How far does your water travel to reach you? If it is coming from a river, it’s a bit easier – figure out which direction the river flows and then trace the river against the flow (upstream) and see how far you can get. For a lake, see if there are any creeks or rivers that flow into your water source – then start tracing upstream. You might end up at a big lake or a glacier!
  • The route you traced is your watershed. Anything that happens along this path could change the quality (health) of your water.
  • Now take a look at the path you traced – are there towns or cities that use the water before it gets to you? What would happen if these cities put a bunch of garbage in the river? What other things could they do that might affect the health of your water?


Activity 4: Where does it go? 

  • Where does water go when you flush the toilet? Maybe you already know that it goes into a septic tank, or maybe you have a composting toilet!
  • If you live in a city, chances are that it goes to a wastewater treatment plant where the water is cleaned.
  • After the water is cleaned, it is put back into the environment.
  • Use the internet and figure out where your local wastewater treatment plant is located as well as where they release the wastewater after it’s been treated. Don’t be surprised if it’s the same body of water that you get your drinking water from!


Activity 5: What about the waste? 

  • Where does your waste go? It’s been cleaned out but it isn’t 100% clean, so where does it end up? Use a map to trace a path to see where your waste water might end up (trace downstream this time, it’ll be the opposite direction of where your water comes from). It probably ends up in the ocean eventually.
  • Are there major landmarks along the path, like cities or major bodies of water? How do your actions affect these places? 


  • What did you learn about watersheds?
  • How might our actions affect other people? Is there anything you can change to keep our water a bit cleaner?
  • Were you surprised by anything you learned during this activity?  
  • Remember to submit your activities on our Scouts for Sustainability Take Action Map


  • Maps of your area with waterways marked – if you can draw on these maps with a pencil, that’s even better!
  • Internet access  

Keep it Simple

  • There are a lot of parts to this activity. Start small by finding your nearest body of water and tracing its path to its source and where it ends – that will give you an idea of where your water comes from and where it goes.   

Take it Further

  • Find a project to help keep your watershed clean and healthy. Arrange a Shoreline Cleanup with your Group or Section, or take part in a project like Yellow Fish Road
  • Plan a field trip to your local municipal water facility – ask questions and find out more about where your water comes from and how it gets there.