Water Festival Keeps Youth Engaged in New Hampshire

A popular New Hampshire water festival and science fair presents students with a full day of thought-provoking environmental activities

Water Festival Keeps Youth Engaged in New Hampshire

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The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services started its water festival 31 years ago to engage fourth graders in learning about the role of water in their lives and how our actions affect water resources.

“The festival has evolved over the years, but our mission has not,” says Lara Hooper, drinking water and groundwater education coordinator for the department. “In fact, we added another goal, and that is to empower students to help protect our waters.”

Forming the festival

New Hampshire is home to almost 1,000 lakes and ponds. Protecting watersheds from wastewater discharges and nonpoint pollution is critical.  

Soon after creating the festival, the department partnered with Manchester Water Works to start the New Hampshire Water Science Fair state finals at the festival. At the same time, NHDES built a coalition with federal, state, regional and municipal organizations to ensure robust and nuanced water education. Today, the festival events are organized by coalition partners Keene Public Works, Manchester Water Works, the New Hampshire Water Works Association, Plymouth Village Sewer and Water District, Concord General Services, RCAP Solutions and NHDES.

Then, in 2018, NHDES added a water poetry contest to engage the students more inclined to the arts. This enables third through fifth graders with varied interests to take part. “We want to engage all kids at those formative ages and impress upon them that the water cycle knows no borders,” Hooper says.

NHDES works directly with teachers and elementary school principals to promote the festival. The department also posts the information on its website (https://nhwaterfestival.org) and promotes the event through social media. The festival rotates around the state to four regions. The supporting utilities encourage educators to participate. 

Varied activities

The festival is held during the first full week of May as part of National Drinking Water Week. The children arrive at 8:30 a.m. and the festivities start at 9 a.m. About 400 students typically attend. 

Students participating in the state Water Science Fair finals spend the morning presenting before panels of judges for the state title. Meanwhile, students at the festival are divided into groups and attend multiple 20-minute lessons. An exhibitor tent includes variety of activities from which students can choose. 

Volunteer science fair judges and festival presenters come from various fields in the water industry, including water and wastewater operators, engineers, lab technicians, foresters, research scientists, geologists, land conservationists, wildlife specialists, university professors,  environmental education center professionals, and staff from NHDES and the state Department of Transportation.

“We want students to get top-notch information and be exposed to professionals from a wide range of fields, so they know that there are many, many ways to take care of water and our planet,” Hooper says. “Our volunteers are amazing.” The topics and current issues the various  experts bring to the festival include:

  • Water taste testing competition from utilities
  • Glacier ice core samples 
  • Camera tours of septic system pipes
  • Plant tours
  • Pipe tapping
  • Taxidermy of animals in a watershed
  • Stormwater runoff 
  • Watersheds, pollution and erosion
  • Water science
  • Impacts of climate change on water

About halfway through the day the kids take a lunch break and enjoy a concert. In the afternoon the science fair and poetry contest winners are announced and poetry winners share their entries. Cash prizes and gift cards are awarded for first, second and third place and honorable mention. The students’ choice for the Best Tasting Water is also announced.

Organizers work with presenters so that lessons create little to no waste. Instead of bottled water, a water fountain and refill stations are set up for attendees.

Festival feedback

Thank you cards and feedback from the students and teachers are always incredibly positive and uplifting to the organizers. One student wrote that she wanted to repeat fourth grade so that she could come to the event again. 

“Our presenters and volunteers also leave the event changed,” says Hooper. “They leave knowing they have made a difference. That makes them feel good and excited about coming back for next year’s event.”


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