Living With Water
June 15, 2023
By Stephanie Aubert, Sustainability Director
In New Orleans, we are living with water. Our neighborhoods are nestled close – snuggled tight by the “Mighty Mississippi” River that forms the famous crescent shape our city is famous for. To the north, the fascinating Lake Pontchartrain (which is in fact an estuary and not a lake!) is crossed by the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway – the longest bridge to continuously cross water on the planet. While many regions of the world face droughts, Louisiana has an abundance of water resources. Through the Living with Water program at the Louisiana Children’s Museum, we are working to change the current narrative – to encourage the transition from a region that struggles to keep water out, to one that considers its abundance to be an asset.
While exploring our relationship with water alongside third graders from four area schools in the spring of 2023, it became clear that this age group is familiar with the concept of disaster relief and flood preparedness. LCM outreach staff visited their schools to teach about wetlands and some of the organisms you might find living in these Louisiana habitats. During the visits, students were introduced to the “Swamp in a Sack” design challenge to examine a wetlands’ tendency to act as a “sponge” during heavy rain events. The underlying question was: Can we replicate this ecological function, or the important ability of wetlands to absorb and hold massive amounts of water, to assist in flood mitigation?
The students took this experiment in stride. They were asked to design and build their “Swamp in a Sack” projects at school, and to later bring them to LCM to test them on the Sedimentation Table in our Dig into Nature Gallery during their “Water Pathways” field trip. Each student group observed how their finished projects held up to flowing water on the Sedimentation Table and were asked to reflect on several questions: What do you see happening? Is your design working like you thought it would? Now that you see your Swamp in a Sack in action, is there anything you would change if you were to build it again? As LCM staff engaged with and listened to the responses by the third-grade students, it became apparent that many of them had a well-developed understanding of the impact of flooding and the abundance of water on the built environment.
During the museum field trip, students engaged with the Mississippi River model in the Move With the River Gallery and explored thriving wetland habitat among the outdoor landscape surrounding our building. Even while showing an understanding of the impact that an abundance of water can have in a flood event, the students demonstrated their appreciation and comprehension of the importance of the Mississippi River on commerce, transportation, and daily life. They consistently displayed a sense of wonder and care when observing and discussing animals and other living beings in and around wetland habitats. They can identify surrounding bodies of water, understand the purpose of dams and pumps, and describe how the Louisiana coastline is eroding away. These New Orleans third graders are living with water.
To learn more about this program and others, please visit lcm.org/programs.