From its inception in 2016, Know Your Well has brought citizen science into classrooms to not only increase groundwater testing throughout Nebraska, but to also showcase the vulnerability of groundwater quality and importance of safe drinking water for rural residents and communities.
In the past six years, Know Your Well has been implemented in more than 28 school districts throughout the state. Participating schools receive educational materials, colorimetric testing kits, and training to conduct domestic well sampling and water testing. Participants collect split samples sent to the Water Science Laboratory for quality-assured testing and results are supplied to the well owner and participating schools. Students are encouraged to compare their test kit measurements with the laboratory tests and develop research projects about local well water quality. Many classes present their findings at science fairs, Nebraska Junior Academy of Science meetings, as well as city council and Natural Resource District board meetings.
Each new phase has allowed the program to expand in scope and impact through various grant opportunities. Know Your Well is now entering its third stage, led by the Papio-Missouri River NRD with partnerships between the University of Nebraska – Kearney, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Chadron State College, the Nebraska Water Center and Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. Grant funding for phase three is primarily from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. The Papio-Missouri River NRD, Central Platte NRD, and Lower Platte South NRD have all promised a cash-match while 13 other NRDs have promised in-kind match.
The latest grants provide funding to equip over 50 Nebraska schools with Know Your Well training, kits, and laboratory test results to highlight domestic well water quality through multiple NRD. The third phase also includes additional science communication and educational resources for the program, and a partnership with UNL's School of Computer Science and Engineering to develop new mobile apps that improve data collection for students and teachers. Know Your Well is evolving to represent the truly interdisciplinary nature of hydrogeological sciences and management while opening doors for students to visualize many possible careers in groundwater and natural resources sciences.
Know Your Well is an educational gem for Nebraska's natural resources and on the cutting edge of citizen science research. As more schools participate, the team has the opportunity to grow groundwater science literacy at the high school level and observe the impact student scientists have on local management practices and the adoption of conservation behaviors. Students are the decision-makers and stakeholders of tomorrow. By giving them the tools and agency to participate in water quality discussions now, they may become leaders in groundwater stewardship later in their professional and personal lives.