One of the great pleasures and challenges of doing real deeper learning work is finding real challenges in our community and community partners that can help us become part of the work in working towards a healthier, safer community. Some of our classwork this year centered on science standards in chemistry, which lend itself to looking at the water issues in our community. The island of Oahu is really a perfect water catchment system, and in particular almost all of that water resides under the island in aquifers that hold freshwater that filters down from the 1.8 billion gallons of rainfall that occur on the island every day. Many of us that live here sometimes take this water for granted, but if we go just a little deeper into this resource, we see that there are important challenges that are facing the island, and a real need for stewardship of these critical resources for us to enjoy the quality of freshwater that we have become accustomed to.
On December 2 our class of 10th grade MPXers visited the Board of Water Supply (BWS) to learn more about when, how and what gets tested to ensure the safety of our water.
**A quick note about the difference between field trips and community partners. Our Deeper Learning Hawaii Network group ran some community partner workshops a year ago and we developed the language of distinguishing one time visits (just to get some information) and an extended interaction with community experts in which students become part of a process in supporting the work of an organization or helping design solutions for that organization. There is a much more detailed version of that here: http://deeperlearninghawaii.weebly.com/community-partnerships.html. In this case, we are looking at a much deeper relationship and an extended investigation about water quality here on the island of Oahu**
Before we visited the site, we spent time reading through the resources about what the board of water supply does, and in particular some of the challenges that they face. I shared slides from a community meeting in October that detailed one of the most pressing issues in Honolulu, In particular, there is a situation with the water that comes out of the Halawa shaft (http://www.boardofwatersupply.com/community/tours-education/halawa-shaft-underground-pumping-station) which feeds water to one quarter of the island’s population. There are large jet fuel storage tanks that hold upwards of hundred 87 million gallons of jet fuel just 100 feet above the aquifer. There is already evidence that these tanks have leaked, and there is continuing tension between those who feel the tanks need stay where they are because of security concerns, and the community that feels that it endangers its water supply.
Our visit to the BWS allowed us to observe, deepen our understanding and ask questions about this key issue. The folks at the BWS were gracious in opening up their labs and sharing the process they use to test and ensure water quality for Oahu.
What role can we play? The Honolulu City Council has met with us and asked us to help them better understand the ins and outs of this issue. They worry that they don’t have a good enough understanding of the science of the water and what and how it might be tested and treated. Our class will be diving in to understand this problem and helping the city council to better see the issues and what they can do. The goal is to present our findings to the council in April and share our learnings and recommendations. It should be an exciting exploration in an important actionable issue in our community!