UNT Professor Curates Conservation, One Child at a Time

Hands-on learning projects are teaching youngsters to conserve water, and it's changing Dallas for the better.

UNT Professor Ruthanne Thompson knows good habits are learned best by youngsters. That’s why she’s putting big data to work to teach youngsters the importance of water conservation.

The Environmental Education Initiative program works by taking real data from the City of Dallas’ water utility bills—personal information removed—and analyzing areas of water consumption that can be improved.

The program, which has received over $7 million in funding from the City of Dallas over the program’s 13 year lifespan, is on a path to continue into 2024 thanks to a recent $2 million infusion from the city.

Dr. Rudi Thompson teaches Biology for Educators, Research Methods for Secondary Science Instruction, and Environmental Science. [Photo: Ahna Hubnik/UNT]

Thompson, an associate professor at UNT and the brain behind the initiative, and her team then take to the classroom, giving preschool through fifth-grade students a hands-on conservation experience with activities including creating “mini aquifers,” crafting water filtration devices, and singing songs about urban water cycles. 

Going beyond the classroom workshops, kids also receive at-home tools to monitor how much water they prevent from going to waste. Such tools include a toothbrush timer, which lets them see how much water they save when they flip off the faucet during their brushing. 

Water isn’t the only thing the EEI is saving—it’s conserving cash as well. The program has saved the city over $3 million a year in water expenses. Less water consumed is less water to treat, decreasing costs for labor, equipment, and maintenance. Green Source DFW reports each child in the program saves an estimated 502 gallons of water each month.

“It’s like shutting down the water treatment plant for at least 12 days every year,” Thompson said in a statement. “Our question now is to see if we can hand this off to other cities and water units.”

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Continuing the conversation of conservation

Thompson most recently received a $2.2 million grant renewal to continue her work in Dallas area schools. The money keeps coming because the program keeps working. For each child that participates, an average of 502 gallons of water a month is saved. That translates to an estimated $31 million in savings for the city over a 10 year period. 

Those gallons are gathered from more than just the children participating. When the kids go home, they teach their parents how to prioritize the planet as well. The conservation effort then continues to flow upstream, changing the entire household’s habits. 

“I like to call it guilt, but the academic term is intergenerational transfer,” Thompson said. “We have found that the kids are going home and creating change in their families.”

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