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Keeping up with the demand

About this lesson

Students learn that fresh water is a precious resource and that there are competing demands for its use.

Year level: 3, 4

Theme: Water supply

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • explain that most of the earth’s water is held as sea water and that less than 2% of water is available to us as drinking water
  • understand that fresh water is limited and one of the most precious substances on earth
  • listen and contribute to conversations about competing needs for fresh water.

Curriculum links


  • Living things, including plants and animals, depend on each other and the environment to survive ACSSU073
  • Science knowledge helps people to understand the effect of their actions ACSHE051; ACSHE062


  • Use interaction skills such as acknowledging another's point of view and linking students’ response to the topic, using familiar and new vocabulary and a range of vocal effects such as tone, pace, pitch and volume to speak clearly and coherently ACELY1688
  • Listen to and contribute to conversations and discussions to share information and ideas and negotiate in collaborative situations ACELY1676
  • Use interaction skills, including active listening behaviours and communicate in a clear, coherent manner using a variety of everyday and learned vocabulary and appropriate tone, pace, pitch and volume ACELY1792


  • OI.2 – All life forms, including human life, are connected through ecosystems on which they depend for their well being and survival.
  • OI.7 – Actions for a more sustainable future reflect values of care, respect and responsibility, and require us to explore and understand environments.

Things you will need

  • 3 x 1L plastic bottles
  • Water
  • Labels: salt water, fresh water and frozen water
  • Computer and internet access
  • Competition for fresh water activity sheet (1 copy for teacher)
  • 4 buckets
  • 3 cups

Lesson description


  • Display an image of the earth from space (using Google maps) – all the water on earth is estimated at 1386 million billion litres.
  • What do students notice about the surface of the earth from the image? (Approximately 72% of the earth’s surface is covered by water).
  • Show the students a 1L bottle of water. Explain that this bottle of water represents all of the water on earth.
  • Pull out two empty 1L bottles. Label the bottles 1, 2, 3.
  • Transfer 20ml of water into bottle 2 (represents frozen fresh water).
  • Transfer 10mL of water into bottle 3 (represents available fresh water).
  • The rest stays in the original bottle 1 (represents salt water).
  • Explain that if all the water on earth is represented by the water in the bottle, the water in the 3 containers would represent the proportion which was salt water, available fresh water and frozen fresh water.


  • Discuss results ask what this means for humans and the environment? 
  • Explain to students that as the population in WA grows there are more people, agriculture and industries competing for water.
  • In WA there are many users who want fresh water, can students list any of them? Write these up on the board. 
  • Draw 3 large circles on the board and summarise students’ suggestions into three groups: home, agriculture and industry/mining.
  • Ask students to come up and write suggestions of what each group uses water for.


Explain to students they are going to play the Water competition relay game to illustrate the competing needs for fresh water (see the activity sheet for instructions). NOTE: this game will need to be played outside near a tap. 

Reflect & summarise

  • Ask the students in the teams to explain what it felt like when they had to compete for water. Did any issues arise?
  • Ask the students who were ‘the river’ to explain what it felt like to be supplying the water. Did any issues arise?
  • What was it like when the rules changed?
  • What do you think the change of rules reflected?
  • Reinforce that fresh water is limited resource and one of the most precious substances on earth.

Extension activities

Teacher background information

A hundred million years ago, when dinosaurs were roaming the earth, the planet had the same amount of water that is has today. Water is constantly being recycled as it evaporates, condenses and trickles back to earth as precipitation. This is called the water cycle.

Available fresh water is a limited resource

  • 72% of the earth’s surface is covered by water.
  • 97% is salt water in the oceans.
  • 2% is frozen water in icecaps and glaciers.
  • 1% of the earth’s water is potential freshwater supply.

Demand for water

As populations grow, water demand also grows. As the quality of life continues to improve for people around the globe our water demands increase with large amounts of water needed to raise cattle, harvest grain, and produce clothing, electronics, and energy.

Since 1950 global water use has nearly tripled. Competition for water takes place between people, types of users and ecosystems.

Conserving water

Australians are among the highest users of water per capita in the world, and Perth remains one of the highest water using cities in Australia.

Western Australians have done a great job of reducing our water use over recent years and the community has become more aware of the need to conserve water. It is important that this trend continues to improve given our drying climate.

Residential households are the highest users of public water, using around 71% of water supplied from the Integrated Water Supply System. This means that households have the greatest potential to save water.

Water consumption
In Western Australia total consumptive water use in 2014–15 was 3476 gigalitres. The sectors that used this water were:

  • mining: 37% (1274 gigalitres)
  • public water scheme supply: 17% (602 gigalitres)
  • agriculture: 16% (556 gigalitres)
  • irrigation scheme supply: 14% (474 gigalitres)
  • commercial and institutional: 9% (325 gigalitres)
  • industry and power generation: 3% (111 gigalitres)
  • other: 1% (52 gigalitres).

Source: Department of Water Annual report 2015.

With less than 1% of earth’s water available for drinking, sanitation and freshwater species it is imperative that we learn to share this critical resource. Learning how much water we use and then learning how to conserve water may be the best way to help ease the competition.


Did you know?

It takes about 11,000 litres of water to produce one pair of cotton jeans.

Key vocabulary

  • Conserve: Use cautiously and frugally
  • Gigalitre (GL): One thousand million litres
  • Groundwater: Water that is held underground in the soil or rock
  • Reduce: To make a reduction in
  • Sustainable: Using a resource so that it is not depleted or permanently damaged