Stewarding the natural and cultural resources of the Cienega Watershed of Southeastern Arizona.

Lesson Plan Introduction and Standards

Locating Students in the Shared History of the Watershed: A Curriculum Guide

Why Teach with the Watershed in Mind?


Everyone lives in a watershed, but often we don’t realize how intertwined our lives, histories, health, and futures are with the watersheds we call home. Over the past two years, several southern Arizona watershed groups including the Cienega Watershed Partnership, the Gila Watershed Partnership, and the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, have been exploring their watershed connections through a process called a Shared History timeline. Shared History timeline exercises are used to engage many different residents in conversations about the unique development of their watershed over time. 

The exercise begins with a blank timeline posted along a wall. Participants add events they believe to be meaningful, they learn from others as memories are jogged, then more events are added and more connections are made. What results is an impressively rich timeline full of depictions of life in a local watershed from multiple perspectives. This type of cooperative engagement with the history of the watershed is needed in order to understand past actions and conditions in order to build a resilient future for the watershed.

The ‘completed’ shared history timeline is an impressive visual document that represents a small portion of the many efforts and experiences that have contributed to the current state of the watershed. Participants report that they come away with a feeling of being a part of a community of action. An important part of the exercise is that the shared history timeline doesn’t end at the current date, but extends many years into the future. It asks, what will the watershed look like in ten years, twenty, or fifty years from now?


The project’s purpose is to reconnect youth with their local watershed as a living system of which they are a part. While today we may not entirely depend on the system’s water, we still live in the watershed which supports the life around us.

It’s easy to understand how students’ relationship to their southern Arizona watershed can be a confusing one. The amount of water that is naturally occurring in our desert watersheds is far less that what is consumed on a daily basis. Students often have a mistaken belief that water is indeed plentiful because it flows easily from their faucets — thanks to the Central Arizona Project. 

However, not all parts of the watershed system have access to the CAP water. The life along the creeks depends upon the few inches of rain that fall during the year. In the past, people’s livelihoods often depended on this small amount of rain. The challenge is to support the study of the local watershed so that students may come to know the people and other natural life who call it home. This knowledge will inform students as they grow to become voters and decision makers about issues concerning the health of the watershed. This knowledge of how the watershed and its people coped with uncertainty in the past is increasingly important as the climate continues to change and present new challenges. For example, in a 2010 State of the Watershed workshop for the Cienega Watershed involving over 50 specialists, the lack of connections with youth and newer residents was identified as a major threat to the continued existence of the watershed and its resources.

In the 2013 series of workshops on climate change in the Cienega Watershed, four resource teams focused on the next 100 years of major risks including climate for the watershed. A major concern identified was whether community connections and values would remain in place to resolve issues such as weather disasters, invasion of species, and water quality and quantity. We have found that Shared History exercises build connections, trust, understanding, and awareness among diverse individuals and organizations in watersheds, but that youth — who are the key to sustaining watersheds and the community values — have not participated. This project will address that specific challenge.

Essential Questions

How have citizens’ actions shaped the health of the watershed?

What collaborations have taken place in order to protect the watershed?

What does it mean to be part of a community?

Academic Standards

ELA Standards for the Shared History of the Watershed Project

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