Turmoil In Town

  • Subjects: Social Studies, Science, Language
  • Duration: 1 Hour or longer
  • Age Level: Grades 6 and Up
  • Location: Classroom
  • Key Vocabulary: Interest group, compromise, economics, groundwater, EPA, Coliform bacteria

OBJECTIVE: This is a role playing game designed to increase student awareness of the importance of clean groundwater. It is designed to examine possible sources of pollution, and to illustrate why it is necessary for people to control human activities that are a threat to groundwater quality.

BACKGROUND: Greenwell is any small town in the United States. Ample supplies of high quality groundwater have always been a positive component of the community. However, the results of the latest water testing by the State laboratory has shown that while the water meets U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, the levels of pollution are increasing. These pollutants include metals, fertilizers, and Coliform bacteria. The amounts of these materials in the public drinking water system could be much worse in five years. The city water commissioner has called a town meeting to discuss the problem and seek possible answers.


EPA - U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency sets limitations on contamination levels and establishes guidelines for the protection of human health and the environment.

Coliform - a type of bacteria found in human and animal intestines and in human and animal feces. Its presence in water is an indication that sewage is mixing with the water source.

Fertilizer - agricultural chemicals used to increase fertility and plant growth; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Pesticide - chemicals used to kill harmful insects, fungi, and plants that destroy or inhibit crop yield.

PROCEDURE: The mayor will proceed down the agenda, calling on (role-play) participants to state their views. After the role players speak, other students in the room can be recognized and voice their opinions as town citizens. Anyone who speaks must be recognized by the mayor.

The mayor recognizes the following members of the community:

Role 1 - Water Commissioner, George Flow

George Flow is at this town meeting to inform everyone that the water from the city wells has been tested and found to have high levels of metals, fertilizers, pesticides, and Coliform bacteria. While the levels discovered are not a threat to human health, they are still higher than desirable. The water commissioner will insist that the community take a close look at the water report.

The commissioner proposed the following alternatives:

  • 1) better control of storm-water flow
  • 2) abandon the community landfill and switch to incineration
  • 3) establish limits on local use of fertilizers and pesticides
  • 4) expand the sewer districts to include new residential areas presently beyond the city limits or
  • 5) give the water additional treatment before it is piped to homes.

Role 2 - Concerned Citizen, Johnny B. Goode

What can I do to correct these problems? I don’t litter. I have a right to clean water. Why don’t we increase taxes on agriculture and industry? They make the products that are causing these problems. Why should I have to pay for the pollution their products create?

Role 3 - Wealthy Farmer, Jim Corn

If I cut down on the amounts of fertilizer and pesticides that I use, it will lower my yield. I’m having a difficult time as it is and I will be needing more water for irrigation next year.

Role 4 - President of the Floatright Boat Company, Mary Topside

We are making every effort possible to increase our production and at the same time, limit our waste. I see no need to increase taxes on local business. Our company is the lifeblood of this community. We provide jobs for 10 percent of the local population. We are as interested as everyone else in finding solutions to this problem.

Role 5 - Superintendent at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, Al G. Blooms

To extend the sewer district would mean that we would have to greatly increase the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant. The cost would run into millions of dollars, but with increased taxes, we would share that cost. Hopefully, the wastewater treatment problems would be limited. I’m proud of the job that our plant does.

Role 6 - Landfill manager, Mike Seep

The landfill is almost full and getting approval for a new landfill nearby is uncertain at this time. We would have better protection against contaminating our water supplies if we’d go to incineration. Let’s investigate the possibilities.

Role 7 - School teacher, Ed Yucate

In our science and social studies classes we teach students how to put their best foot forward. I think we need to set examples for our children by making maximum efforts to clean up our groundwater and our environment.

Role 8 - Conservation club ecologist, Iona Pherngully

We need to control all pollutants. Limits on waste placed in the landfill are badly needed. Restrictions on fertilizer and pesticide use is essential. Getting everyone onto the sewer lines is of utmost importance. We also must stop sending hazardous wastes to the landfill.

Role 9 - Unconcerned citizen, Moe Apathy

Everything is fine. The reports must be exaggerated. My family and I have lived here for years without any health problems. I can’t afford higher taxes. I say the water is fine just like it is.

Role 10 - Health department official, Dr. Charles Hygiene

If we don’t make plans and take action now, it will jeopardize the future well-being of this community. Any additional increase in groundwater contamination will have a direct effect upon the health of our citizens.

Activities: Assign students to positions in the community. The mayor should be a student who can run the meeting by being able to recognize each student that speaks. The remainder of the class are citizens of the town and may speak after the role players have spoken. This role playing model gives students the opportunity to discuss community situations that have a direct bearing upon their lives. The students may need time to research their positions. The teacher may need to help moderate the actual meeting. This exercise should give those students who respond verbally a chance to lead this activity.


  • 1. Who is responsible for the quality of the community water supply?
  • 2. What must happen in order for the community to agree upon a solution?

Summary: The importance of this activity is to allow students to see that there are many sides to water quality problems. The role playing gives each student the non-critical environment to freely verbalize ideas. Some solution for the protection of the groundwater should be developed in the activity. Each class or group may arrive at a different solution.

Courtesy Joe Pitts, Missouri Department of Natural Resources

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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