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Educating Our Community to Protect Water Resources: 2024 MSU Science Festival!

Updated: May 16

Tri-County strives to protect and enhance our environment's built and natural resources through public education, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, training and professional development, and technical and data assistance for local communities. Our environmental programming places a special focus on planning initiatives that help ensure our region has access to unpolluted surface water, sustainable groundwater resources, and healthy and safe drinking water. One of the main ways we work to achieve this is by educating community members on the impacts of our actions on water resources and promoting the shared stewardship of these natural assets.

Every year, Tri-County participates in the MSU Science Festival’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Expo Days on behalf of the Groundwater Management Board (GMB) and Greater Lansing Regional Committee for Stormwater Management (GLRC) to educate people of all ages about where our water resources come from. Read on to learn how the GMB and GLRC engaged community members and how aquifers and watersheds work and affect our lives!

Founded in 1982, GMB is composed of representatives from 10 communities within Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties who work together to educate the public about the importance of groundwater protection, exchange knowledge about best management practices, and assist local governments with identifying ways to keep our underground water resources clean.

During this year’s MSU Science Festival, GMB hosted their “Greater Lansing’s Saginaw Aquifer in a Cup” activity. This was a great opportunity for both kids and adults to learn about how we access our drinking water through an aquifer. An aquifer is an underground layer where all space between rocks and soil is filled by water. Private wells (also known as residential wells) are drilled between 80 – 250 feet deep in our region to access this water source but can go even deeper into the ground depending on certain locations. When relying on public drinking water supplies, utilities will easily drill wells over 400 feet deep to meet water demands.

To help participants understand this invisible resource, the activity showed how water moves through gravel and sand to simulate how an aquifer forms below ground. Reusable drinking straws, which changed to a blue color when exposed to cold water, were inserted into the cup filled with the rocky sediment and water to represent a well accessing groundwater. When the straw turned blue, it simulated water accessing the pipe and establishing a static water line. This is the area in the well where we would install a pump to bring the water to the surface for our daily use. Watching the water filter through the cup and up the straw prompted questions from participants about where their water comes from, how wells work, and what’s being done to keep our drinking water clean.

Almost all of the tri-county region’s drinking water comes from below ground and we all rely on groundwater whether you get your water through a private well or a public utility. To learn more about aquifers and how to keep our groundwater clean, visit

GLRC has been coordinating local programs and public education to reduce stormwater pollution and improve watershed health since 1999. The committee is comprised of 17 communities within the Greater Lansing region’s Grand River, Red Cedar, and Looking Glass River watersheds that have Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) and must meet state permit requirements. GLRC members work together to collaboratively implement stormwater and public education programs and address permit compliance and surface water issues across communities.

GLRC was excited to bring the popular Augmented Reality Sandbox, or ARS, back for a second visit at the MSU Science Festival. The interactive, watershed education tool is owned jointly by the GLRC and the Eaton Conservation District. The purpose of the ARS is to educate people on what a watershed is while encouraging them to think about the effects of humans on the environment and our water resources. It allows users to create topographical models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real-time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water.

A watershed is an area of land where all the water collects in the same place, like a river or lake, which is the Grand River in our region. The Grand River Watershed drains into Lake Michigan, and ultimately, into the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. A healthy watershed is key to providing critical services such as clean drinking water, productive fisheries, and outdoor recreation, which support our economies, environment, and quality of life. To learn more about how to be stormwater smart and protect our watersheds, visit

Tri-County staff enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the community in support of the GMB and GLRC and connect these activities to what students were learning in their science classes. Many kids reported these hands-on experiences were their favorite part of the MSU Science Festival, and even felt they better understood how an aquifer works and why protecting our watersheds is important!


In addition to these activities, parents and kids were able to take home giveaways like reusable cups and straws, water bottles, pens, and more, as well as educational materials about “What is an Aquifer?” and “Green Infrastructure at Home.”


For more information on Tri-County’s environmental programming and resources, visit or contact our team at!

To help protect local communities, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission plans for sustainable natural resources by facilitating the Groundwater Management Board and the Greater Lansing Regional Committee for Stormwater Management.

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