Bakersfield students win grand prize for grey water project

May 13, 2021
by Lois Henry
A compliation of research done by Barbara Elrod's Munsey Elementary Class, which won the H2O Challenge grand prize this year for its project looking at how grey water absorbs into soil faster than soap free water. COURTESY: H2O Challenge website.
Lois Henry

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Students at Bakersfield’s Munsey Elementary School took home the grand prize in a statewide contest to find new, innovative ways to conserve water.

The contest, called the  H2O Challenge, is put on by water purveyor Cal Water.

Teacher Barbara Elrod encouraged the students in her combination 5th and 6th grade class to take up the challenge and they focused on how grey water, left over from dish and clothes washing, could be used to increase underground water recharge.

They discovered when water has surfactants, or soap, in it, that increases the water’s absorption into soil, explained 11-year-old Kamyah Gaut.

Barbara Elrod, left, and one of her students Kamyah Gaut, talk about their class project to find ways to improve groundwater recharge by using grey water. SCREENSHOT: Lois Henry


Surfactants push water molecules apart, she told SJV Water in March, which aids in absorption.

“We did experiments and showed drinking water sat on top of hydrophobic soils, but the grey water went down,” Kamyah said. It went down four to five times faster so it penetrated deeper and was subject to far less evaporation than surfactant-free water.

The class packaged their research into a video, designed a game for Kahoot! and wrote a short commercial on what they’d learned.

Their hard work paid off with the grand prize. The classroom will be awarded $3,500 and each participating student will receive a $1,000 college scholarship through Scholarship America.

Of course, there also will be pizza and balloons. Perhaps some sort of drive-through celebration, given the ongoing pandemic. “We’re still working all that out,” Elrod said.

Bakersfield has had a strong showing in the H2O Challenge since it began seven years ago.

In 2015, Elrod’s class took second place. Then Rachel Lenix’ Downtown Elementary class won the grand prize in 2016. Lenix’ class took second place in 2017 and again in 2019. In 2018, Julie Moore’s class at San Lauren Elementary won second place.

This is the first year two Bakersfield elementary schools finished in the top three.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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