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Guide to Supplemental Water
Education Programs

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) invites you to learn more about water at these exciting facilities located throughout New York City.

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th St., New York City 10024-5192
212 769-5100; information for school and group visits 212 769-5200

Revealing its importance as one of life’s most basic and vital components, water continually appears throughout the Natural History Museum’s exploration of life on this planet. Students see water in all manifestations, from an impossibly small molecule to a raging river, and can trace the journey of this critical resource from the primal rainfall to the water which runs from our taps each day.

Although navigating this giant building can be tricky, the following exhibits pertaining to water are conveniently located. On the first floor the Hall of Planet Earth is directly across the lobby from the Hall of Biodiversity, which leads into the North American Forests exhibit and the Hall of New York State Environment. A staircase to the second floor opens on to the African Peoples exhibit, from which a central corridor leads to the Natural Science Center.

Hall of Planet Earth: In this exhibit students learn about the history and geologic mechanisms of planet earth, which includes numerous examples of the chemical importance of water in the earth’s formation and its ability to sustain life. Students learn how the first oceans were formed from water raining out of the earth’s atmosphere, how glaciers, oceans and rivers have transformed the earth’s surface over the years, how the earth’s climate changes are recorded in ice cores, and how life was first sustained deep in the earth’s oceans.

Hall of Biodiversity: In this dimly-lit and lush exhibit students learn how water pollution poses a significant threat to biodiversity, especially along coastal areas and within precious freshwater wetlands, rivers and lakes. A screen-display video at the far end of the room (“Setting a River Free”) discusses the opening of a dam along the Kennebec River in Maine, which allowed fish access to freshwater so that they could reproduce.

North American Forests: Here students can see the way in which rivers and their occasional flooding contribute to different types of forest growth. A diagram of what a water table might look like beneath a typical North American Forest demonstrates how varying depths of water beneath the surface affect the vegetation above ground.

The Hall of New York State Environment: This exhibit chronicles the development of New York State’s natural landscape over time, and includes the numerous ways in which water contributed to such change. A geologic cross-section of the Hudson River region reveals that the excavation for the Schoharie Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains exposed trunks of the extinct “early seed fern” (Eospermatopteris), a tree that grew to at least 40’ high. It also shows the effects of sediment from when this area was under seawater. There are also displays of the water cycle, photos of old water pumps and wells, and a pictorial explanation of how glaciation carved out the landscape we see today.

African Peoples: In this exhibit, students learn how water and its scarcity dramatically affect the lives of African Peoples not only geographically, but also politically and economically. Artifacts and model replicas teach students about riverine agriculture, irrigation, flooding, and various techniques used for drawing up underground water in the desert, such as Archimedes’ Screw. The small room entitled River Valley, explores the different civilizations which sprung up beyond Egypt and the Nile valley, along the life-giving Niger, Congo and Zambezi Rivers.

Natural Science Center: This small, interactive exhibit demonstrates to children the ways in which nature shapes the lives of even New York City inhabitants. Students can listen on earphones to the birds of Central Park, learn how New York City was once buried deep beneath a glacier, and see many live examples of some of the wildlife surrounding us, such as salamanders, turtles, and fish. An explanation of estuaries includes where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Hudson and East Rivers, a map and a glimpse of the water supply and sewage systems beneath our feet. Since this is a special exhibit, please call (212) 769-5304 for hours.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue (81 street), New York, 10028-0198
212-535-7710 ; information for school visits (K-12) 212 288-7733

The Temple of Dendur, an Egyptian temple reconstructed in the Sackler wing of the Metropolitan, provides students with a unique example of “water politics.” The temple was presented to the United States as a gift after it was almost permanently submerged due to the construction of the High Dam at Aswan, begun in 1963. The temple was originally located on the West Bank of the Nile, and before relocation had been subjected to occasional flooding since the first dam was built at Aswan in 1900.

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Museum of the City of New York

1220 Fifth Avenue (103 street), New York, 10029
212-534-1672, for school and group information, extension 206

On the lower level of the museum one finds the Fire Gallery, devoted to the city’s developing fire protection programs and the corresponding development of the water supply system. Children learn the important role the water supply system has played in fire control over the years, seeing not only photographs and pictures of firefighting scenes from the 17th century onward, but being able to inspect actual artifacts from the old system. A wooden water pipe made out of a hollow pine log provides a piece of the City’s earliest underground water system, begun in 1800 and consisting of 25 miles of wooden pipes carrying water from the Collect Pond (between Pearl and White streets) to over 2,000 households south of Bleeker Street. Delving even further into the City’s past, students can see a display of authentic leather buckets used in the “bucket brigades” of Dutch days, when each householder had to fill buckets of water from the nearest spring, well or cistern and place them on the doorstep after sunset for use by the fire patrol. From the various techniques of the past, one learns to appreciate the relative ease with which today’s firefighters are assured of a plentiful and accessible supply of water.

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New York City Fire Museum

278 Spring Street (between Varick and Hudson), New York, 10013

Located in an old fire house and filled with hands-on firefighting paraphernalia, the New York City Fire Museum teaches students about the growth of the water supply system and its importance to firefighting in New York City. Along the back wall of the museum, behind an old horse-drawn steam engine, is a display specifically focusing on the development of the water supply system, tracing it from the wells and cisterns of the 17th and 18th centuries, to the Croton Aqueduct system begun in the early 19th century, to the Catskill and Delaware systems of the 20th century. This complicated and political story is illustrated with antique maps, announcements, newspaper clippings, drawings and photographs. Students will also find an array of water system artifacts, from old wooden water pipes and wooden fire hydrants to leather water buckets and old hand pumpers.

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New York Hall of Science

47-01 111th Street, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, NY 11368
718-699-0005, for group reservations (required) 718-699-0301

Hands-on, interactive exhibits throughout the Hall of Science teach children about the physical, biological, and chemical properties of the world around them. The activities are often simple but provocative, involving lights and mirrors or using tricks of perspective to introduce different concepts. Daily demonstrations performed by the Museum’s trained “explainers” are also an attraction, such as “Cow’s Eye Dissection” or “Microbiology Video Microscope.” A bubble station teaches the properties of surface tension, a glass-enclosed ecosystem demonstrates the cycle of carbon dioxide, oxygen and carbohydrates between plants, water and animals. Children of all ages can play in an extensive water display which is part of the Museum’s outdoor playground, including an Archimedes’ Screw that children can use to pull water from low to high levels, or simulated streambed tanks, whirlpool dishes, and wave machines. There is also an interesting display of the various artistic entries from a recent competition for new manhole covers.

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South Street Seaport Museum

12-14 Fulton Street, New York 10038
212-748-8600, school and group visiting information 212-748-8786

At the South Street Seaport Museum one truly gets a sense of New York City’s emergence in the seventeenth century as a bustling port town. A ticket gains access to some historic ships docked along the pier, the two galleries of the museum and an antique printshop. The Whitman Gallery contains a permanent collection of information about passenger and cargo ships and includes models, paraphernalia, and photographs describing historic ships, their journeys, and their passengers. The nearby Children’s Center offers rotating programs with a maritime focus, featuring activities such as “Safety on Ships” or “The Kidnapped Canoemaker: Tales from Native America.” Onboard environmental education programs are available on the Pioneer schooner and at the Wet Lab on the Peking ship.

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New York City Watershed Environmental Education Resource Directory

The Watershed Environmental Education Alliance (WEEA) is an association of educators representing facilities, agencies and organizations based in and around the New York City water supply watersheds that develop, support and implement school–based and afterschool water education programs.

WEEA has just compiled the New York City Watershed Environmental Education Resource Directory.

The Directory is designed to be a comprehensive guide for teachers and other educators who are seeking to enhance their water–based curriculum with hands–on learning experiences about the New York City water supply system through watershed field trips and other special presentations.

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