The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project

The Science of Water Art project is a collaborative research project involving professionals, community members, college students and children, examining the role that water plays in each of our lives. Specifically, the project provides insights into how Arizona youth view the vital resource of water as they share perceptions of climate change and water insecurity through art.

The research is part of the larger Global Ethnohydrology Study, which was launched in 2007 and looks at the role of water, climate change and health in several communities worldwide.

Summary of Study

The study was conceptualized in partnership with Salt River Project and the Maricopa County Education Service Agency by the School of Human Evolution and Social Change's associate professor Amber Wutich and professor and director Alexandra Brewis Slade.

In a sample of fourth-grade classes across Arizona, teachers prompted 9–11 year olds to draw two pictures with the instructions:

  1. Please draw a picture showing water being used in your neighborhood.
  2. Please draw a picture showing how you imagine water will be used in your neighborhood 100 years from now.

The more than 3,000 pieces of artwork were then coded by more than 50 Arizona State University undergraduate students majoring in global health and anthropology, as part of a Community Partnerships class. Coding involved developing nine unique themes found in the drawings and analyzing every drawing for each theme below:

  • Vegetation – green space, living plants
  • Scarcity – water insufficiency, loss or unavailability
  • Pollution – degraded water
  • Commercial sources – water treated as an economic good
  • Existing technology – use of contemporary objects in conjunction with water use
  • Technology innovation – new technology being used in conjunction with water
  • Recreational use – water used for enjoyment
  • Domestic use – water used in home or private sphere
  • Natural sources – naturally occurring water sources

Summary of Findings

  • Through statistical analysis of the codes, the undergraduate student research assistants found that vegetation, existing technology, recreational use and domestic use appeared more often in drawings of the present day than those depicting neighborhoods in 100 years.
  • Pollution, scarcity, commercial sources of water, natural sources of water and technological innovation were more prevalent in drawings of the future than the present.
  • Although negative themes of scarcity and pollution were not present in the majority of the art, they were more present in drawings of the future. This shows that children who are aware of and thinking about the themes of scarcity and pollution have negative perceptions of the state of water in the future.

Please click on the thumbnails below to view two posters created and presented by honors student Holly Vins.

Gender Differences in Perceptions of Water in Arizona: Insights from the Science of Water Art Project

The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project

Please click on the arrow below to view a sampling of artwork from participating fourth graders and some basic findings.

Resources for K-12 Teachers:

  • Teachers, you can do this activity in your classroom and compare your findings to ours.  

Team Members:

  • Amber Wutich, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Alexandra Brewis, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Melissa Beresford, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Christopher Roberts, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Alissa Ruth, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
  • Holly Vins, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change

ASU Partners:

Community Collaborators:



Participating K-12 Teachers and Schools:   

  • Alex Villasenor, Challenger Middle School
  • Amy Busse, Myers Ganoung Elementary
  • Angela Gherman, Riverview, Dysart
  • Bahja Ali, El Dorado Public Charter High School
  • Becky  Eyestone, Gwyneth Ham School, Yuma School District One
  • Carla Hedge, Tolleson Elementary School District #17
  • Cheri Williams, Carver Elementary School, Yuma School District 1
  • Cheri Williams, Rolle Elementary School, Yuma School District 1
  • Christina Harguess, Self Development Charter School
  • Christine Russell, Parkview, Dysart USD
  • Christy  Anders, Self Development Charter School
  • Dawn Horney, Grace Christian Homeschoolers
  • Dee Yeager, Prescott Unified
  • Denise Fletcher, Myers Ganoung Elementary
  • Elisa Delgadillo, Thompson Ranch
  • Elizabeth Ulloa, St. Jerome School in the Phoenix Catholic Diocese
  • Emily Schneider, Self Development Charter School
  • Heather Rankin, Countryside, Dysart Unified
  • Holly Hooley, Desert Canyon Elementary, SUSD
  • Jamie Smith, Self Development Charter School
  • Jeana Caywood, West Point
  • Jennifer Stimson, Copper Ridge School, Scottsdale Unified School District
  • Jennifer Zolikoff, Anasazi, SUSD
  • JoAnn Teixeira, Lake Valley Elem, HUSD #22
  • Juli Bais, Granite Mountain Middle School, Prescott Unified School District
  • Julie Harris, Desert Canyon Elementary School
  • Justean Palmer, Canyon Ridge School
  • Karen Nelson, Self Development Charter School
  • Kari Schinzel, Deer Valley Unified School District
  • Kathleen Bischof, Riverview/Dysart
  • Kimberly Marlar, Andersen Elementary, CUSD
  • Kristen  Van Liew, Self Development Charter School
  • Lauren  Silecchia, Copper Ridge, SUSD
  • Lena Benjamin, Self Development Charter School
  • Lillian Cisneros, Kingswood Elementary, Dysart USD
  • Linda Crawford, West Sedona School, Sedona Oak Creek School District
  • Linda Heibich, Surprise Elementary, Dysart District
  • Linda McCormack, Amerischools Academy North
  • Linda Sarris, Challenger Middle School
  • Lois Lalley Downin, Kyrene del Cielo
  • Lori Gaither, Tucson Unified
  • Lourdes Mejia, Mesa Public Schools
  • Lowanna Perry, Morristown Elementary School District #75
  • Marcia  Karls, Parkmeadow Elementary
  • Marguerite Samples, Dunham Elementary, Tucson Unified School District
  • Marina  Rodriguez, Copper Ridge Scottsdale
  • Marlene Dean, Balsz Elementry School 
  • Marriam Motamedi, Lindbergh, Mesa Public School
  • Mary Buzzard, Mountain View Preparatory School Cottonwood-Oak Creek SD
  • Meaghan Sweney, Otondo, Yuma District 1
  • Melody Oliver, Self Development Charter School
  • Merry Cox, Blue Ridge Junior High, Blue Ridge School District
  • Mr./Mrs. Jones, Self Development Charter School
  • Mr./Mrs. Richard, Self Development Charter School
  • Naomi Medina, Self Development Charter School
  • Norma Nieto, Surprise Elementary School
  • Pam Robbins
  • Patricia Bumann, Arts Academy at Estrella Mountain, PLC Charter Schools
  • Richard Holmes, Sevilla West Alhambra School District
  • Rosalie  Sanchez, Mammoth Elementary STEM School
  • Samantha Paulson, Self Development Charter School
  • Sandra Clark, Glassford Hill Middle
  • Sandra Young, Foothills Elementary
  • Sharon Day, Bologna Elementary Chandler Unified School District
  • Shayla Halverson, Self Development Charter School
  • Sherri Cote, Self Development Charter School
  • Stacey Greene, Hopi Elementary, SUSD
  • Stephanie Homyak, Isaac Middle School, Isaac Elementary School District
  • Steve Makielski, Myers Ganoung Elementary
  • Tabatha Gravell, Manzanita School KUSD#20
  • Tammy Barker, Self Development Charter School
  • Teresa  Robbins, Desert View Elementary Page Unified School District
  • Teri Smith, Mountain View; Dysart Unified School District
  • Terri Kunz, CTA Independence, CUSD
  • Trinka Hall, Canon Elementary School, Canon School District No. 50
  • Tysie Rogers, LMES/ CCUSD
  • Zayda McIntire, Orange Grove Elementary