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Water cooperation

About this lesson

Students are introduced to the concept of water cooperation and discover how land use activities near water sources can have an effect on an area's water quality.

Year level: 5, 6

Theme: Water and the natural environment

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • understand the concept and importance of water cooperation
  • create a graph to show the amount of pollutants in a water sample
  • identify pollutants from different types of land use
  • explain how land use can affect water for other people.

Curriculum links


  • Construct and use a range of representations, including tables and graphs, to represent and describe observations, patterns or relationships in data using digital technologies as appropriate ACSIS090; ACSIS107
  • Scientific knowledge is used to inform personal and community decisions ACSHE083ACSHE100 
  • The growth and survival of living things are affected by the physical conditions of their environment ACSSU094

Things you will need

Lesson description


  • Ask students what does 'pollution' mean. Provide examples of how water can become polluted through different activities, such as farming or building.
  • Talk about how our water use can affect the water quality in a neighbouring suburb, town, state or country.
  • Introduce the concept of ‘water cooperation’ and what it means for us and for others.


Part 1 – Flows and effects of water use

Using the activity sheet, explore the concept of how ones use of a river will affect the neighbouring water source.

  • Have students observe and record the differences between the three countries in terms of how they value water, the different ways they use water and issues associated with the protection, conservation and sustainability of the river as a water source. Key questions to ask are:
    • How does each country take from and add to the river?
    • How do other people’s practices impact people’s practices downstream?
    • What would happen if one country dammed the river?
    • How is water managed across international boundaries? 
    • What effects does water use in Country A have on the livelihoods of people living in Country B?
    • What solutions can you suggest for Country A to ensure the sustainability of the river as a water source for Countries B and C?

Part 2 – Analysing water samples

  • Before you start this activity, you will need to prepare 3 bags of  ‘water samples’ for each group. The number of each bead colour in the bags should be manipulated to represent different types of land use. Each colour represents a different pollutant, for example:
    • blue: clean water
    • yellow: pesticides, fertilisers and phosphates from farming
    • orange: land sediment from building and construction
    • red: human waste from septic tanks
    • purple: animal waste from agriculture and farming
    • black: chemical and oil spills from machinery and factories.

NOTE: write this information on the board for students to refer to. For example, Country A might be a heavy farming country and therefore this ‘water sample’ would contain a lot of yellow and purple beads.

  • Explain to students they are going to participate in an activity to demonstrate how water is affected by the land use activities around it. This is eventually passed on to the neighbouring suburb, town, state or country.
  • Break the class up into groups and give each group 3 bags of pre-prepared coloured beads to represent a ‘water sample’ from each of the three countries in the activity sheet.
  • Ask students to count the numbers of each pollutant and create a bar graph showing the results for each country.
  • Students are to determine what land use activities are occurring in each country according to their ‘water samples'.

Reflect & summarise

Have students discuss, in their groups, what each country can do to improve its water quality to ensure the sustainability of water sources and associated environmental, economic, health and social values are considered for all three countries.  Present their understandings to the class.

Extension activities

  • Watch the video Water is precious(2:09). 
  • Ask students to research a real river where there water is compromised by another suburb, town, state or country e.g. The Nile, The Yangtze, The Ganges, The Mississippi, the Murray, or The Mekong. Have students answer the key questions from activity 1 and prepare a report to present to the class.

Teacher background information

What is water cooperation?

Water cooperation is when each country considers the way they use and manage water so that water is fairly distributed and available to all. It is particularly important in highly populated areas where water is scarce.

The different uses of rivers and other water sources are related to many factors within each suburb, town, state or country.

Some of these uses include:

  • customs – e.g the Ganges
  • industries –  e.g. dumping waste into the river
  • quality of life – e.g. washing, watering livestock or disposal of rubbish
  • deforestation –  resulting in increased flooding and loss of biodiversity
  • agricultural practices –  e.g. topsoil runoff, fertiliser and pesticide contamination

Approximately 40% of the world’s population live in river and lake basins that comprise two or more countries, and perhaps even more significantly, over 90% live in countries that share basins or catchments.

The existing 263 trans-boundary lake and river basins cover nearly one half of the earth’s land surface and account for an estimated 60% of global freshwater flow. A total of 145 states (including territories) are located within such basins and 30 countries lie entirely within them.

In addition about 2 billion people worldwide depend on groundwater, which includes approximately 300 trans-boundary aquifer systems.


Did you know?

Over 70% of the earth's surface is water.

Key vocabulary

  • Compromise: A middle way between two extremes
  • Conflict: A disagreement or argument about something
  • Pollution: The addition of harmful things to the environment
  • Sustainability: To keep something in existence
  • Trans-boundary: Crossing a provincial, territorial or national boundary
  • Water cooperation: Nations and countries that are working together to ensure water is well-managed, fairly distributed and available to all