SAWS environmental lab chemist Luis Arrese demonstrates oxidation-reduction reaction at the 2017 Confluence. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

Students from 18 local high schools presented projects on water’s impact on communities worldwide during San Antonio Water System‘s sixth annual Confluence at the Henry B. González Convention Center Tuesday.

More than 500 students showcased their research, with hundreds more observing and learning from their peers’ work. More than 3,000 Bexar County high school students have taken part in Confluence since its launch in 2012.

SAWS’ educational program Impact provides an avenue for students to partake in water service-learning projects during a portion of the school year.

Those projects are then displayed at Confluence, which includes exhibits from different SAWS departments, local universities, engineering companies, and environmental organizations and agencies.

SAWS board members combined the event with their regular meeting, which took place in another conference room at the convention center.

Heriberto “Berto” Guerra, SAWS board chairman, told the students that Tuesday’s event was designed to teach them “the value of water,” this year’s Confluence theme.

Guerra explained that SAWS has been working to diversify its water supplies for San Antonio through methods such as desalination and the planned Vista Ridge project.

“Your mayor and City Council are making sure our children, our children’s children, and generations to come have a diversified water supply,” he said.

Mayor Ivy Taylor (right) speaks with SAWS Education Coordinator Lynne Christopher at the 2017 Confluence event.
Mayor Ivy Taylor (right) speaks with SAWS Education Coordinator Lynne Christopher at the 2017 Confluence event. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

Mayor Ivy Taylor commended the students on their efforts to learn about water conservation and how to keep the water supply clean.

“Keep in mind your responsibility to make San Antonio a ‘water-full’ community, because there are actions that you can take everyday to impact our water future,” she said.

The Christian School at Castle Hills student Victor Farias explained the mini-water museum he and his fellow classmates spent weeks putting together: The project featured poster boards and mock-ups that showed water works in early human civilizations, current uses, and potential future uses.

“It opened up my eyes to water. Not only that, I’m learning from what I’ve seen from other schools,” Farias said. “I had no idea how much water is wasted and the number of things you can do with water.”

Isabella Salinas and Gabriella Olvera were part of the McCollum High School team. They took on the Flint, Mich. water crisis with a poster board that outlined the various factors that caused the city’s state of emergency.

Because Flint residents were forced to live off bottled water for months, the McCollum students sampled three bottled water brands. They also took samples from two water faucets and a water fountain on campus.

They sampled the water on Petri dishes, placed each dish in a plastic bag, and incubated them for one month to see how dirty the water samples were.

“What we found was pretty nasty,” Olvera said. Each Petri dish had a yellowish stain; some were darker than others.

“We wanted to show how [the water] is hurting the people of Flint, Michigan, and the children especially. There’s really no safe level [of cleanliness],” Olvera added.

Christian School at Castle Hills students demonstrated desalination and hydropower at SAWS's Confluence event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.
Christian School at Castle Hills students demonstrated desalination and hydropower at SAWS’s Confluence event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

The team from STEM Early College High School demonstrated coagulation, the process of a liquid changing to a solid or semi-solid state, using a mason jar, a lamp, an iron probe, and a flattened aluminum probe. The probes were linked via circuit board connectors to a small solar panel on which the lamp shone.

Another student, Ramon Orendain, said the purpose of the project was to promote water and energy conservation.

“We would be using energy sources that we could possibly save for future events,” Orendain said. “We just want to help our city the best way we can, and we want to do it efficiently.”

Following their meeting, SAWS board members and administrators joined the students in the Confluence room to browse the projects.

“What we really value,” SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente said, “is that they’ll be able to share this knowledge with families and other fellow students to keep the knowledge of water going on.”

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.