CASE STUDY: California's delta (3 of 3)

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Students will be able to 1)evaluate a proposed plan to address California's water crisis and 2) develop an argument about how maps can be tools of environmental justice or injustice depending on the information they contain.

Big Idea

Scientists use geographic information systems to develop maps of important features of physical geography. How might we use the California delta as a case study of how maps can be arguments for stakeholders’ ideas about how to use the environment?

FRAME: Stakeholders and solutions

How can we evaluate the solution ideas proposed by California stakeholder groups? In this final lesson of the CASE STUDY sequence, students apply their understanding of stakeholders from the second lesson to a real-world solution idea. Who wins from this solution? Who loses? How can we assess solution ideas? What is the right solution?

Students first explore the "California WaterFix" in the FLIPPED assignment. This is most current solution proposed by the government of California to fix the California delta system. Next, students evaluate the California WaterFix solution ideas based on the need of delta stakeholders. Extending this analysis, students then evaluate solutions ideas from the perspective of environmental justice.  Who or what does each solution help? How do we decide if this outcome is fair? Finally, students synthesize learning from this CASE STUDY in a short writing piece that addresses the big idea.  How might we use the California delta as a case study of how maps can be arguments for stakeholders' ideas about how to use the environment?  By the end of this third lesson, students will have understood and evaluated real-world proposals for fixing the water crisis in California, applied an environmental justice framework to solution ideas, and synthesized ideas from the CASE STUDY in order to describe how maps might be tools for environmental justice.  

By the end of this CASE STUDY sequence, successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. define a delta
  2. explain the key features of California's delta through the lens of environmental protection
  3. describe how historical maps of California's delta reveal competing ideas about its purpose
  4. define a stakeholder
  5. articulate competing stakeholder needs in the California delta
  6. evaluate a proposed plan to address California's water crisis
  7. develop an argument about how maps can be tools of environmental justice or injustice depending on the information they contain.


  • The included prototype activity guide is a basic template that might be differentiated for a a group of diverse learners.

CURATED ADDITIONAL READING:  A number of articles have appeared during the last year about water and California.  Additional readings to consider for this topic are included below. If the California WaterFix online resource is to advanced for students, modified versions of these articles could be used as a substitute resource:

FLIPPED: California's WaterFix

What is the purpose of this section?

Students extract information from a short clip developed by "California WaterFix," a comprehensive ecological restoration plan for the California delta.  This clip takes the perspective of the "ecological detectives" stakeholders from the previous lesson.  By the end of this section, students should be able to describe a problem identified by this plan and a proposed solution. Students do not need to have a comprehensive understanding; rather, they should be able to describe the California WaterFix in general detail. Students are becoming familiar. They will develop expertise through the ELABORATE activities.

What will students do?

Students watch this clip and respond to the following three questions:

  1. What is one problem presented?
  2. Which stakeholder group does this problem most affect?
  3. What is a solution idea presented?

RESOURCE NOTE: This is a clip from Youtube. If it does not load, the video file is attached.

ELABORATE (1 of 2): California WaterFix Deep Dive

25 minutes
What is the purpose of this section?
Students extend their understanding of the FLIPPED assignment through a modified jigsaw protocol. Teachers support students' understanding of the connections among stakeholder needs, defined problems, and solution ideas.  By the end of this activity, students will be able to describe problems defined by the California WaterFix plan, solutions developed for these problems, and the costs and benefits for various stakeholder groups.

What will students do?
Students access California WaterFix, the plan proposed by the state of California and the federal government, and make meaning in small groups.  These groups are divided into two categories:
  1. Problems (three groups)
  2. Solutions (three groups)

Student groups will take a one of the topics within each category and will also be assigned a stakeholder group. This group can be one of the groups defined during the previous EXPLAIN activity or one of the sample stakeholder groups outlined at the end of the CASE STUDY prototype activity guide.  

Students groups will develop a short "flash publication" about the selected category. This flash publication will be at most 90 seconds and consist of the following:

  1. Context: What is the problem or solution? 
  2. Visual: What does the problem of solution look like on a map?
  3. Stakeholder definition: What do stakeholders want?
  4. Stakeholder outcome: For problems, how would this stakeholder group want to solve the problem?  For solutions, does this solution meet the needs of the stakeholder group
Students will have 15 minutes to develop presentations. The "script" for each presentation will be added to each student's shared electronic document for the CASE STUDY. All groups will have a total of 10 minutes to present. Timing is strict.  Students will not debrief this section as a whole class; the next activity allows for student to debrief and extend ideas from these presentations.
  • Students presenting about ecological rehabilitation will benefit from information here.
  • Students preferring text may want to examine this FAQ in addition to the online resource.
What will teachers do?
Teachers will most likely need to model the presentation requirements for student groups and assist groups in defining stakeholder needs.  How would a construction company value the delta? Would the proposed solution help the construction company meet this need? What type of map would support your claim? Additionally, student may want to go beyond the requirements for the flash publication, especially if they have become invested in understanding the California delta. Teachers will want to limit students' exploration of additional topics given time constraints; especially curious students should be told that the next two activities will allow them to expand their scope.

ELABORATE (2 of 2): Are these solutions fair?

20 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students evaluate the California WaterFix plan through the lens of environmental justice. This plan does not excellent job of outlining ecosystem rehabilitation, but at what costs? What about the low-income and minority stakeholders that these solutions ideas might impact? In this process, students will also consider how maps can obscure the negative costs of seemingly attractive solutions to historically powerless stakeholders.  By the end of this section students will have evaluated maps describing California WaterFix solution ideas, developed an understanding of environmental justice issues unexplored by the California WaterFix solution, and discussed the fairness of the California WaterFix idea from the perspective of environmental justice.

What will students do?

In the first part of this ELABORATE activity, students explored California WaterFix, a series of proposed solutions that appear to solve key problems. But are these solutions as beneficial as they seem?  Students will investigate this question by applying the concept of environmental justice.  If these solution ideas are implemented, will there by disproportionately negative outcomes for low-income and minority communities? And how do the maps used to describe these solution ideas represent tools for or against environmental justice?

Students first start by examining the map of California EcoRestore, one of the proposed California WaterFix solution ideas that biases towards stakeholders with an interest in ecological rehabilitation and environmental protection.  Presentation groups from the first ELABORATE activity will answer the following questions and then share out ideas with the whole class:

  • Based on this map, how will this solution idea benefit the delta?
  • Which stakeholder groups benefit the most?
  • Looking at this map through an environmental justice lens, what information is missing?

Next, student groups examine this document, the Partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIR/SDEIS) that is made available to the public in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  (Related documents can be found on this site.) Students within each group first answer questions silently and then share ideas with each other. These questions are:

  • What are the environment justice concerns of proposed WaterFix plans?
  • What types of maps would more accurately reflect these concerns?
  • Are these proposed solutions environmentally just?  Why or why not?
  • What types of maps would more accurately demonstrate the costs of these solution ideas to low-income and minority communities?

For this analysis, each presentation group should take a different topic. (These are in bold in the document, such as Land Use).

The whole class will then discuss responses to this second set of questions.  At the end of this discussion, all student should have at least one response to each question.

What will teachers do?

Students will need to be able to read complex language to be successful; they will also need to think of maps that do not exist. To support students' success, teachers may want to develop leveled texts from the the student document and may also want to develop a  model map that illustrates an environmental justice concern. For examples, a map of noise and low-income/minority populations living in potential construction zones would capture the negative impact of the WaterFix plan.

EVALUATE: future justice

15 minutes

What will this summative assessment evaluate? 

Students will demonstrate proficiency for this CASE STUDY sequence through a short written response. They will have 15 minutes in class to begin a response to the following prompt that will be completed outside of class:

​How might we use the Sacramento Delta as a case study of how maps can be tools for or against environmental justice? Develop a short response to this question from the perspective of a stakeholder group. You will write responses in your shared document for this CASE STUDY. Your response should be at least 350 wordsYou will also share give your work to one other student to peer review.  Your peer reviewer should add comments directly to your document. Proficient responses will include the following:

  • a description of the problems the California delta faces
  • a description of one solution
  • a map that capture the benefits of the proposed solution
  • an explanation of one stakeholder group that would benefit from this solution
  • an evaluation of this solution from an environmental justice perspective
  • an explanation of how a map of the solution idea can be used as a tool that supports environmental justice

WORK SAMPLE NOTES: The attached work samples exemplifie an "almost proficient" outcome, the most common for this assignment. While the student understands problems, solutions, stakeholder groups, and maps as evidence to support solution ideas, the environmental justice thread is underdeveloped. Similar essays provide insight into an overall shortcoming of this CASE STUDY. Nearly all student met all of the objectives except for the big idea that maps can be used as tools for or against environmental justice. Future iterations of this CASE STUDY will include a mini-debate about how environmentally just WaterFix solutions are in which presenting groups will have to include maps as evidence of their arguments. Hopefully this will make the important connection between maps and environmental justice stickier.