Youth Water Education Needs Assessment

Project Background

With the increasing demand of agriculture, urban growth, and climate change on water quality, effective water management is critical. However, before water can be effectively managed individuals need a solid foundational knowledge of water resources, natural and anthropogenic influences, changing and emerging threats to water, and how local water issues affect world water supply.  Evidence suggests that many Americans lack these foundational components. With water quality and water related issues being a world-wide issue, education of our future leaders is vital.

The youth working group of the North Central Region Water Network is committed to increasing the number of resources surrounding water education and activities for today’s youth. Without effective data on what programs and initiatives are currently in place throughout the region, collaboration and innovation lag.

The youth working group is working to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the programs and initiatives being conducted to educate youth on water throughout the region and compare those to best-practices for effective youth programming to make evidence-based recommendations for youth water education.


The goal of this project is to:

  • Determine curriculum being used for youth water education being taught in the North Central Region by land grant universities and partners in the region
  • Identify curriculum that make youth knowledgeable, passionate, and active in water related issues
  • Identify placed-based education
  • Find gaps in program/curriculum either by age, stewardship or engagement

Addressing the Challenge

The team created and distributed an in-depth survey to both extension and land-grant educators across the region and outside partners who provide youth water education. In total, 113 extension and land-grant professionals from nine different institutions responded to the survey listing the youth water education curriculum used across the region, as well as the outside partners they work with, and the challenges to their program’s success.

In addition, the team worked to reach out to outside partners across the region engaged in youth water education to determine the curriculum they use in educating the next generation of youth water leaders, how they work to incorporate citizen scientists into their programming, and their citizen science partners. In total, 40 outside partners have responded to the survey and the team is continuing their outreach to various partners.

Moving Forward

In total over 50 different youth water curriculum were collected through the team’s work for early childhood, early elementary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school age groups.  In addition to curriculum, the team also collected a wealth of qualitative information on the effectiveness of curriculum, the variety of citizen science opportunities in youth water education, as well as the different barriers educators face when conducting this programming.

The team is working on organizing and displaying this data in a user-friendly manner which can be used as a resource to educators both within extension and beyond across the region.

The team is also preparing a report on their findings with recommendations for youth water educational programming.


Amy Timmerman
Project Director, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A factsheet on the youth water education needs assessment can be found here.