Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival

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

Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival Canceled

The Central Platte Natural Resources District announced today that the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival to be held May 12, 2020, in Grand Island is canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.  The Festival is held annually at the Central Community College and College Park campuses for fifth-grade students.

Governor Pete Ricketts issued a Direct Health Measure that imposes an enforceable limit on public gatherings.  Many of the 14 schools that were scheduled to attend are in the areas directed to operate without students in their buildings.

General Manager Lyndon Vogt said, “It’s unfortunate but necessary to cancel this event to comply with the Governor’s quarantine restrictions that are in place until May 6th.  We are taking this action for the safety of the students, educators, presenters, volunteers, and our communities.”

The Groundwater Festival reinforces groundwater quality, groundwater quantity, and natural resources education that students receive by bringing 50 water and natural resources professionals together to teach up to 1,000 students in one day.  Approximately 125 volunteers from surrounding communities and businesses volunteer for the event.

At the festival, students attend six in-depth classroom activities and a stage show. Schools that were scheduled to attend this year will be invited to attend the festival in 2021.

This event was the first groundwater festival to be formed and has been replicated in 42 states in the U.S.A., Mexico, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. Over 30,000 students have been educated at the Festival since 1988.

For more information, contact festival coordinators Kelly Cole or Marcia Lee at (308) 385-6282.


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.


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 2021. 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.

Migration Headache  Students act as waterfowl and learn struggles they go through when water isn’t present.






Water Filtration
  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.

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

Jami Harper Scholarship Program


Flagship Event —  Held in Grand Island, Nebraska since 1989, the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival was the first to be formed nationally and has been replicated in 42 states in the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom.  Based on pre- 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.  In 2019, the Festival received the local and national Izaak Walton League of America Roll Call awards for educating over 30,000 youth in 30 years.

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.

Target Audience – All Nebraska 5th-grade teachers are invited to attend. Approximately 1,000 children from 45 schools participate in the festival each year. The remaining schools that request attendance are invited the following year.

Presenters – Experts in the fields of water and natural resources are invited to present at the festival, as well as school groups studying groundwater as part of their curriculum. Following are some of the organizations that present and participate: Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Nebraska Water Departments, several UNL Cooperative Extension offices, Cargill Team Blair, City of Grand Island, Stuhr Museum, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Nebraska Health & Human Services, Nebraska Water Environment Association, Nebraska Section American Water Works Association, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nebraska Public Power District, Nebraska Well Drillers Association, Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary, the Groundwater Foundation, Fontenelle Forests’ Raptor Recovery, Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Weed Control Association, Meridian Enrichment Program, Ducks Unlimited, Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team, Grand Island Area Clean Community System, Central District Health Department, Noyes Art Gallery, National Weather Service, Olsson Associates, Grand Island Izaak Walton League, and local high schools: Grand Island Senior High, GI Central Catholic, Doniphan-Trumbull, Hastings.

Committee: The Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival Committee is comprised of the Central Platte NRD, the Grand Island Groundwater Guardian Team, Central Community College and College Park in Grand Island, Grand Island Utility Department, Bureau of Reclamation, other organizations and citizens who believe in educating youth about groundwater conservation and protection.

Funding:  Central Platte NRD coordinates and contributes $10,000 annually. With a budget of $18,000, funding from businesses and private individuals is necessary to continue to offer this educational event to students at no cost to the students or schools that attend.


To provide a quality, education-oriented event, CPNRD staff requests participants to complete the following:

Education:  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.

Evaluations:  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.


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.

For additional information, contact:

Kelly Cole and/or Marcia Lee
Central Platte Natural Resources District
(308) 385-6282
215 Kaufman Avenue, Grand Island NE 68803
Kelly’s email:  Marcia’s email:


H2O Triathlon

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)