Objective: Students will learn what an aquifer is and how it works by creating their own aquifer. They will further explore the Ogallala aquifer and recognize its significance.

2 liter plastic pop bottle
Plastic tubing
Rubber band
Plastic medicinal syringe

Other Materials to Have on Hand:
Map of the South Dakota Aquifers
Map of the Ogallala Aquifer
Depiction of an Aquifer 1, 2. 3

Aquifers are located underground and serve as storage areas for groundwater. An aquifer is made up of different kinds of sediments like sand, gravel, and clay. Depending on their makeup, aquifers hold different amounts of water. Many people imagine them as big underground lakes. Water in an aquifer is called groundwater. Water is found in the tiny little spaces or "pores" in between the particles that make up the soils and rock under the ground. These particles filter the water as it seeps through which actually cleans the water. In fact, groundwater is some of the cleanest water on the planet! Groundwater is used for many things such as irrigation, as a drinking water supply, as a source of household water, and for industrial operations. To use the water in aquifers, wells need to be drilled into the aquifer and then the water is pumped out. It is important not to pump out the water faster than it can be replaced.

The Ogallala aquifer expands eight states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas) and is one of the largest in the world. More than half of the irrigated land in the United States uses the water from the Ogallala aquifer. Water has been drawn from this aquifer for over 100 years and some of the water itself is more than three million years old. The aquifer is said to have first been tapped in 1911 by a hand-dug well. Now an estimated 12 billion cubic meters of water is removed from the aquifer each year. Because it would take 6,000 years to replace the water in the Ogallala aquifer, it is expected that 6% of the aquifer will dry up every 25 years.

Before you begin making the aquifer, explain what an aquifer is and show the illustrations to the class.

1. Cut the top off of the pop bottle (leave 5 inches from the bottom).
2. Put a layer of clay on the bottom of the pop bottle
3. Pour a cup full of rocks on top of the clay
4. Pour a cup full of sand on top of the sand
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4
6. Place the nylon on one end of the plastic tubing and secure it with a rubber band.

Slowly pour water (recharge) over the aquifer. Observe how long it takes the water to seep through the gravel and soil. Next, demonstrate how wells are used to pump water out of aquifers. The nylon on the end of the rubber tubing represents the screen that you would find at the bottom of a well to keep out large particles. The syringe is placed in the open end of the tubing and represents the well pump. Make a hole in the center of your aquifer (represents drilling the well) and insert the end of the plastic tubing with the screen on the end. Next you will demonstrate pumping the water from the aquifer by using the syringe. The student should see that the water being pumped is transparent and no particles exist.

Discuss with your class where the aquifers are located in South Dakota. Show the South Dakota aquifer map. Find the nearest aquifer and discuss how your area utilizes it.
Discuss with your class the largest aquifer in the United States, the Ogallala aquifer. Show the map of the United States and the location of the aquifer.

1. You can demonstrate how easily an aquifer can become polluted by using a drop of food coloring (pollutant) down the side of your aquifer. Pump the water and see how long it takes to see the food coloring (pollutant) come up into your well. Discuss how once an aquifer becomes polluted you can no longer use that well and it could take years for the pollutant to dissipate enough to be able to use the well again. In some cases, wells can be drilled deeper to avoid the contamination in the upper part of the aquifer.

2. Have your class further research the Ogallala aquifer and have further discussions.

Grade Level:

Subject Areas:
Social Studies, Science

SD Standards for 4th grade:
Social Studies

Nature of Science Indicator 2


Comprehension, Application, Knowledge, Comparison, Demonstration, Analysis

Prior Preparation: Review with your students the water of the Earth. Play the game Hydro-Logic for a better understanding of our state's water resources.

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