Great Lakes college students are working with towns and cities to fix water problems thanks to a challenge called Water Pressures.
Students identify a water problem, develop a solution with local officials and document the action they take with video and blogs. These are uploaded to waterpressures.org as examples of student-led water actions.
Their videos will also be featured on their local public broadcasting station.
The international challenge is a partnership between Artistic Circles, American Public Television (APT), and IBM.
“I use media to create social change,” said Ann Feldman, a visiting scholar in gender studies at Northwestern University and the founder of Artistic Circles, a 23-year-old organization creating documentaries to promote civic action.
Water Pressures was started in 2007 to bring awareness to water scarcity in India. Now it’s encouraging people worldwide to look at water pollution and management.
It helps students address water problems in their own backyards.
“The challenge gets students to be a part of their community,” Feldman said. “If students can do a feasible water cleanup and can document it, then maybe public television can air it.”
Her goal is publicity.
“If the blogs and videos become viral, they can inspire other groups to act,” Feldman said. “It’s not enough to be on TV; I need action and involvement from young people.”
The challenge is just beginning. Northwestern and an elite high school in India are on board. Feldman is in preliminary talks with Detroit Public Television to have them feature student videos.
At Northwestern, Feldman and student groups are discussing with a metropolitan water reclamation district how to improve a stagnant body of water. They want to make it safe for boating and swimming. The location will be disclosed once plans are finalized.
Students in India are creating an awareness campaign about the high levels of pollution in the Luni River, which flows through the western state of Rajasthan.
Students will use Creekwatch, an iPhone app developed by IBM, to record water data. IBM became involved through its Students for a Smarter Planet program.
While these projects are just beginning, others have already finished.
In March 2010, Feldman took Northwestern students and a video camera to the western state of Rajasthan, India, one of the world’s most distressed water regions.
Students observed the community’s water management practices and learned how water scarcity affects agriculture and public health. As a follow-up, water experts from Rajasthan traveled to Northwestern where they worked with faculty to create a study abroad program in India that focuses on water management.
From this experience, Feldman created Water Pressures: The Documentary. It’s being presented to a national audience by WTTW, Chicago’s APT channel 11, in January.
Sammis White, a professor of public policy and urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and two graduate students produced a video for Milwaukee residents.
It demonstrates simple, affordable steps they could take to prevent storm water from draining into the sewage system.
Old, leaky city pipes in Milwaukee drain storm water into a wastewater treatment facility that can’t handle it.
“In Milwaukee the water volume that is sent into sewage treatment plants during storms increases four or five times what it is in dry weather,” White said.
Pipes back up with untreated wastewater that spills into basements and lawns, he said. Methods to permanently solve this problem are expensive.
White’s students worked with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewer District to find solutions.
District officials provided insight into affordable methods of rerouting storm water, White said.
The storm water video was uploaded onto the Water Pressures website, but received no other publicity. Working with APT should help change that.
Water Pressures and APT will use an outreach coordinator whose job it will be to get local public stations on board the challenge.
“We support any project worthy of our vision, said Fran Harth, vice president of program development at WTTW. “Hopefully people all over the country will be interested and engaged.”
Water Pressures is also planning a campaign this fall to get more college students involved solving water problems.
On a 2007 visit to India, Feldman witnessed people rioting in the streets over a court decision on who controls the headwaters of the Cauvery River near Bangalore. It’s an issue difficult to ignore.
“I saw people willing to die because of water issues,” she said. “I didn’t go looking for this issue – it found me.”