Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival

Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival
Central Community College & College Park – Grand Island 

2020 Registration Form

The Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival is a one-day event that promotes groundwater stewardship by providing the students’ knowledge about protecting groundwater quality and conserving groundwater use. Water and natural resources professionals teach in-depth classrooms and stage shows throughout the day.


Mike Gaghagen, Izaak Walton League of America member, presented the Grand Island Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) award to the Central Platte Natural Resources District for outstanding contributions to the conservation of our nation’s natural resources through the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival. The award was presented at the Central Platte NRD’s board of directors meeting on Thursday. Grand Island IWLA members present an activity at the Festival each year titled Critter Cube Count which teaches students how to identify macroinvertebrates then use math to calculate the health of a stream and how it affects groundwater.

Marcia Lee, Mike Gaghagen, Kelly Cole

This was the second award presented this month to the Central Platte NRD for the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival. On July 17, 2019, the Izaak Walton League presented their National Honor Roll Award to Kelly Cole and Marcia Lee, festival coordinators, at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, for efforts to educate youth about natural resources through the Groundwater Festival.

Over 30,000 students from across the state have attended the annual Festival that has been replicated in 42 states in the United States, and in Mexico, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom.

In 2004, Susan Seacrest and The Groundwater Foundation staff approached CPNRD about handing over their flagship event – the state’s first Children’s Groundwater Festival. NRD staff, Kelly Cole and Marcia Lee were excited to take on the challenge. In 2005, the Foundation and the NRD co-coordinated the event for a smooth transition.

Lee said, “That first year on our own (2005) we were both eager and nervous about taking on a statewide event; however, the guidance we received from the Foundation assured that everything went smoothly.”  This May marked the 30th year that the festival has brought professionals together to teach youth about all aspects of groundwater. Lee said the message students take in has remained the same – groundwater is a precious resource and we all have a part in protecting and preserving it.

Students attend 25-minute in-depth classroom activities and a stage show that relates to groundwater. Water/natural resources professionals teach about groundwater interactions with surface water, effects of pumping, the Ogallala Aquifer, pollinators, stream flows, wetlands, pollution, drinking water, recycling, wastewater, industry use, the water cycle, water filtration, municipal systems, and wildlife; through hands-on activities, games, and relay races. NRD staff sets each school’s schedule, placing the students in six different topics.

Cole said a few changes have been made. The first was to rename the event to the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival and partner with Grand Island Community Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization. CPNRD budgets $10,000 annually with the remainder of funds donated by businesses and individuals to cover equipment, materials, and sack lunches provided to students, teachers, presenters, and volunteers.

A change that will take effect in 2020 is the shift from inviting both fourth and fifth-grade students to only fifth-grade since the Nebraska Department of Education determined that the Festival best correlates with new science standards for fifth-grade. With every school in Nebraska invited to attend, schools were being placed on a two-year waiting list. The change reduces the wait-time for schools to attend.  Location is also a vital aspect to the number of schools that can attend. Central Community College and College Park have provided their campuses at no cost for all 30 years.”

A good indicator that the festival is successful are the evaluations received by teachers, presenters, and volunteers. Even better indicators are letters received from college students who attended as elementary students. Former students say the opportunity to attend the festival opened their eyes to their career path.  “It’s incredibly rewarding when we receive those letters,” Lee said.  “It’s gratifying to know the Groundwater Festival has made a personal impact on someone’s life and that they share the same devotion to groundwater that we do.”

Cole and Lee say the event seems to get easier each year and they don’t lose as much sleep as they did that first year. It’s their hope that the Festival impacts Nebraska youth for another 30+ years.

30th Anniversary Program


Mime, Masks & Magic of Groundwater (CP Auditorium)  Fax Gilbert Gilbert performs skills of mime, magic, masks and comedy to teach and inspire students about groundwater.

The Raptor Connection (CCC 355-Cafeteria) Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery    Meet live raptors up close and personal! Learn how raptors are dependent upon groundwater and surface water for food, shelter and nesting.


Classroom Activities are in-depth and hands-on. These 25-minute classroom-style presentations are held at both college campuses with up to 30 students per session.

Awesome Aquifer (CP 103/104) The Groundwater Foundation Learn about groundwater interactions with surface water and effects of pumping.

Awesome Aquifer (CCC 313) Natural Resources Conservation Service Learn about location, size and function of the High Plains Aquifer by constructing your own model.

AWWA Groundwater Model (CCC 456) Nebraska American Water Works Association Students interact with model that displays relationship between surface water and groundwater.

Honeybees & You (CCC 524) Central Community College- Bee Campus USA See how honeybees interact and discover how important honeybees and other pollinators are important to you.

Critter Cube Count (CCC 522) Grand Island Izaak Walton League  Role the dice to identify macroinvertebrate, then use math to calculate the health of a stream and how if affects groundwater.

Eco-Friendly Alternative Household Cleaners (CP 209/210) Meridian Enrichment Program Students use activities using safe alternative cleaning solutions that will not harm the groundwater.

GIS/GPS: Know It! (CP 200) Central Platte Natural Resources District Use GPS units to see how NRDs calculate groundwater levels from year-to-year to manage water resources.

GISH Water Island & GISH Water World (CCC 258/260) GI Senior High Environmental Science Classes Rotate through interactive activities to learn about the water cycle, ground/surface water & High Plains Aquifer.

Groundwater: It’s in What You Drink! (CCC 255) Ensign Beverage Students list all the different kinds of drinks they can think of & then they’ll be introduced to kombucha and how much water it takes to brew it.

H2O and the 3 R‘s (CCC 554) Keep Loup Basin Beautiful  Students walk upstream to Ogallala Aquifer and discover effects littering has on our groundwater and river systems.

Household Hazardous Waste Jeopardy (CCC 457) Grand Island Area Clean Community System Play a Jeopardy-style game on how household hazardous waste & learn how it affects groundwater and the environment.

How Wetlands Work (CCC 452) Ducks Unlimited  Learn how wetlands help people every day by preventing flooding, pollution, replenishing groundwater supplies.

Pollinator Fun! (CCC 555) Central Community College  Tour CCC’s Environmental Sustainability pollinator garden.

Preventing Groundwater Pollution (CCC 312) City of Grand Island/ City of Kearney Learn how groundwater pollution occurs and ways to prevent pollution with our hands-on Enviroscape.

Protecting Our Drinking Water (CP 105/106) Nebraska DHHS-Drinking Water Division   Learn how we ensure that your drinking water is safe.

Rain, Rain, Come My Way (CP 207/208) Noyes Art Gallery  Make a rain stick rattle using recycled materials & do a dance while learning groundwater facts.

Seed Bombs for Wet Meadow Pollinators (CCC 405) The Crane Trust Make seed bombs while learning about wet meadow importance to wildlife, pollinators, groundwater recharge, and sub-irrigation.

Stormwater Sleuth & the E-coli Relay (CP Park Room) UNL Extension Compete in a green/gray relay race to learn the relationship of non-point source pollution to the surface and groundwater interaction.

Wastewater Jeopardy (CCC 525) Nebraska Water Environment Association Play an interactive water version of the game show Jeopardy with questions related to water and wastewater.

Water and Dyeing Our Clothes (CCC 455) Spindle, Shuttle & Needle  Dye your own scarf while learning about problems that arise while dyeing clothing and new scientific methods to dyeing.

Water Cycle Relay (CP 203/204) Hall County 4-H  Learn different stages of water cycle with ice while participating in a relay race.

Water Drop Relay (CP Fonner Room) Lower Loup Natural Resources District   Teams will compete to finish first in a re-enactment of the water cycle.

Water Filtration (CCC 396) Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Learn how to make a water filter using pop bottles, sand, gravel, paper towels, and activated charcoal.

Water Rockets (CP 206) Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team  Use water and compressed air to make water rockets and learn about Grand Island’s water system.

Water Table (CCC 454) Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary  Learn how water interacts with the environment and how important groundwater is to an ecosystem.

Weather & Water “Feud” (CCC 311) National Weather Service  Spin the wheel to answer questions about Nebraska groundwater.


REGISTER NOW! 5th-grade teachers (public & private) in Nebraska are invited to register to attend in 2020. Registration Form

Changes to the Festival

The Festival Committee reviews evaluation forms submitted by teachers, presenters, and volunteers; as well as reviewing, updated science standards to improve the educational experience that students receive while attending the Festival. Changes for future festivals include inviting all 5th-grade classes to accommodate more students, meet updated science standards, and provide each school the opportunity to send students in one grade. Another change the committee made was to move the deadline for the Art Contest. Students will be invited to submit their artwork after attending the festival, to allow them to communicate what they learned at the festival. It will also allow them more time to work on their poster during the early weeks of summer break. Prizes will be provided to the top three posters selected.

Festival Highlights

Some of the activities…

Build Beaver Build! presented by Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
Students created beaver dams using natural & man-made items showing how critical this species is to groundwater.









Migration Headache presented by Lower Platte North Natural Resources District
Students act as waterfowl and learn struggles they go through when water isn’t present.






Water Filtration
presented by Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Students experimented with several items to decide how to filter colored water to clear water.


GIS/GPS: Know It! presented by Central Platte Natural Resources District
Students use GPS units to see how NRDs calculate groundwater levels from year-to-year to manage water resources.

What Plants Need to Grow presented by Nutrients for Life Foundation
Students used a water bead activity to make their own pocket seed germination bag.

Hydro Electric Engineers presented by Nebraska Public Power District
Students help design to learn the benefits of hydroelectricity and how engineers work together to solve problems.

Media Coverage:
Water Rockets & Gooey Garbage Connect Students to Groundwater– Steve White, NTV
Students Become Teachers at Children’s Groundwater Festival– Robert Pore, The Grand Island Independent
Fourth Graders Learn Key Role of Beavers & Wetlands in Nature  -Robert Pore, The Grand Island Independent

 Lists activities, presenters, the location of each activity, and sponsors.


Jami Harper Scholarship Program


Flagship Event — The groundwater festival, held in Grand Island, Nebraska, was the first to be formed nationally and has been replicated in nearly 40 states in the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom.  Based on the pre-test and post-test results, evaluations, and a behavioral impact study, the festival has demonstrated its positive impact on children’s awareness, knowledge, and ultimately their behavior in groundwater protection. This festival became the model for others nationwide and is the only water festival that invites students to attend from across the state.

Committee — The Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival Committee is comprised of the Central Platte Natural Resources District (CPNRD), the Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team, Central Community College and College Park in Grand Island, and other organizations and citizens who believe in educating youth about groundwater conservation and protection.

Purpose of Funding – In 2004, the Groundwater Foundation of Lincoln, NE, requested that the Grand Island community take over sponsorship of this statewide event.  Central Platte NRD, took the lead at that time and began coordinating and contributing $10,000 towards funding the festival. Local partners on the committee have actively participated in the project since its origination in 1989 and help find additional sponsors.  Funding from businesses and private individuals allows the Central Platte NRD to continue to offer this educational event to students statewide at no cost to the students or schools that participate.  The Central Community College & College Park in Grand Island provide their facilities during spring break at no cost.

Donations– Individuals and area businesses may donate (100% tax deductible) to allow students and schools to attend the event at no cost.  Donation form.

 LexMorton JengaTarget Audience —  5th-grade teachers are invited to register for this annual event with no registration fee. About 1,000 children from 45 schools participate in the festival each year. The remaining schools that request attendance are invited the following year.  Schools are contacted in November to verify that they plan to attend the Festival the second week in May.  Teachers are contacted in March to verify the number of students attending and to verify that the schedule festival coordinators developed for their class will work for them.

How – The focus of the festival is to provide students with hands-on, active learning experiences to gain knowledge about the sources of groundwater, permeation of the soil, the scarcity of groundwater and its vulnerability to pollution. The festival uses stage show presentations, classroom activities and educational games to create student interest and awareness of groundwater issues. Students attend five classroom-style sessions, one session with water-related games, and a stage show while at the festival for four hours. Each student that attends takes a pre-test before arriving at the festival and a post-test after they have attended. Based on these pre & post-test results, evaluations, and a behavioral impact study, the festival has demonstrated its positive impact on children’s awareness, knowledge, and ultimately behavior in groundwater protection. All 4th and 5th-grade students in public and home schools are invited to attend. Once a teacher confirms that they would like to bring their class, they are scheduled for that year or the following year. Since there are so many schools that participate, they usually attend every other year; allowing students that don’t attend in 4th grade to attend in 5th grade.

H2O TriathlonPresenters – Water and conservation professionals teach in-depth classroom sessions about groundwater uses in Nebraska including drinking water, irrigation, and wildlife needs.  Other topics presented are water conservation, water pollution, the relationship between groundwater and surface water, agricultural needs and personal conservation habits.  Past stage show presenters include Magician Fax Gilbert, who demonstrates the magical properties of water; Critterman David Kleven who brings live mammals and discusses the way that animals use groundwater; and Fontenelle Forest who brings live raptors to explain how wildlife is dependent upon groundwater and surface water. The Exhibit Hall presenters provide fun information and water games for students to experience.  Click here for last year’s program that lists all of the presenters and a description of their activities.


Evaluation: Each school is sent a pre-test that has questions ranging from simple to difficult regarding groundwater. The test is a combination of multiple-choice, fill in the blank, and true/false sections. Each instructor is sent a list of the Nebraska Science Standards, related educational activities to prepare for the festival.  Teachers are asked to give the students the pre-tests and send them back to the Committee prior to attending the Festival. After attending the Festival, the instructors are asked to give the post-test to the students and again send them back.  In the past, post-tests have shown that there is an increased knowledge about groundwater after the students have attended the Festival.  All volunteers, presenters, educators, and students that participate in the festival are required to fill out evaluations on their time spent at the festival.  The coordinators use these evaluations each year to improve the experience for every participant.

Key Staff – The coordinators of the festival are Kelly Cole and Marcia Lee of the Central Platte Natural Resources District (CPNRD), 215 Kaufman Avenue, Grand Island, NE 68803.

TESTIMONIALS- Teachers and Students

TEACHERS   “We want you to know the Groundwater Festival is the best field trip we have ever attended. It was extremely organized excellent hands-on activities, and superior presenters in ALL of the exhibits.” Jill Granger and Rick Carpenter, McDaid, North Platte (Attended in 2014)


Hello, I am so excited to get in contact with this organization.  I attended the festival sometime around 1990.  I grew up in Doniphan, Nebraska and still remember the event.  At the time I had won the science fair and was feeling really excited about science in general.  This would eventually wain for a bit, but now I live in Truckee, Ca and am again a student this time at the University of Nevada at Reno majoring in Environmental Science with a focus on ecology and eco-hydrology; I love mentioning the Ogallala aquifer any chance I get!! I just wanted to thank everyone involved in this program for helping feed a little girl’s interest in science and let you know it most certainly helped get me where I am today.  I would love to attend or even help at some point if possible.

Sincerely, Ericka Kay


I would have to say that the Groundwater Festival was one of my first experiences with issues related to the environment. At the festival, I received my first glimpse at the interrelatedness of people and their environment. How the choices we make and the way we live our lives has a real impact on our future and on future generations.

I learned that our natural resources are in fact finite and must be respected. We only have one world and it has to last. These concepts first made real at the Groundwater Festival stayed with me as I continued my education. In college, I was very involved in our campus environmental organization where we worked to bring awareness about environmental issues to other students.

I am currently studying a Master’s degree in Sustainable Rural Development in Montevideo, Uruguay. The program focuses on finding sustainable solutions to a variety of problems encountered by rural farmers. Solutions that protect the environment, that respect the natural resources and that leave the world the same or preferably better for future generations.

It may be hard to believe that something like the Groundwater Festival could have such an impact on someone’s life but it is true. The concepts I learned at an early age stayed with me and translated into a drive to deepen my knowledge in that area. That is exactly why programs like this are so important because they plant the seeds. Seeds that one day may grow into something great. (We’ll have to wait and see about the whole greatness thing.)

Sincerely, Brandon Davis  (Attended in 2009)