TEACH!: Unit 5, Lesson 2.

Water in the Landscape:

The Delaware River Game


Players will learn about the geography of the Delaware River, understand the factors which influence the water quality of  the river, and recognize threats to the health of the Delaware River ecosystem.


Preparation will require a one-time investment of about 2–3 hours.

  • Large map of the Delaware River including geopolitical features such as county and reservation boundaries, community names, major roads, parks, etc. This can be drawn on a tarp, painted or chalked on the floor, or outlined with tape.
  • Role cards describing roles assigned to individuals who live or work along the River (see below)
  • Large clear container of clean water to represent the water in the river (a five gallon plastic storage box works well)
  • Extra bucket or sink for dumping water removed from the river
  • Extra bucket of clean water for rain
  • Plastic cup, three small containers of brightly colored water (red, green, yellow) with eye droppers, fish cut out of plastic or plexiglass, and other miscellaneous supplies depending on which roles you use or develop


This is an interactive role-playing game, in which participants make decisions that affect the Delaware River ecosystem. It focuses on the interplay between water quality, human activities, ecological balance, and aesthetics. A bucket of water represents the river. Participants assume roles and make choices for actions appropriate to that role. The water becomes polluted as the game progresses. Participants make and respond to decisions to pollute or protect the river.

Sixteen sample roles are provided with this lesson. Some roles are more appropriate for adult audiences since they involve more complex choices and greater reading skills. Select appropriate roles based on the age and experience of group members and your geographic region of the state.


1. Place the container of water in the center of the group. Stand the fish on the bottom. Place the containers of colored water and eye droppers near the bucket, but hold onto the other props until that particular role is read.

2. With players sitting where they can see the map of the river, discuss what the players know about the river. What connections do they have with it ? Point out where towns, roads, or other features are. Discuss: What is a watershed? How might the river have changed over time? Who owns the river?

3. Distribute the role cards and have players find a new seat near their “home” along the river map. Describe role playing and encourage participants to act as they think the person described on their card would act. Begin playing at the headwaters and work downstream.

4. As each player’s turn comes, have her/him read out the role and describe what choice s/he has made, if a choice is indicated. Each player should perform some action that will affect the quality of the river water—it might make it worse, improve it, or allow it to remain the same. As they perform their action, ask them to explain their decision.

5. Discuss decisions as you play. Balance economic considerations against idealism. If no one opts to pollute, ask how realistic that situation is. Compare the multi-million dollar decisions participants may not feel they can influence with what they can do as individuals to reduce or prevent pollution. Discuss how they really can have an impact on corporate decisions through letter writing, campaigns, boycotts, etc.

6. Review that the container is a simple model of the river. In reality, water is constantly moving through the system, via precipitation, runoff, evaporation, and human use. Pollution may be diluted, deposited, or eventually flushed into the Delaware Bay between Delaware and New Jersey. The water is used and reused many times on its journey to the sea. Remind players that water in the river is a limited resource an d that everybody lives downstream of someone else.

7. As you finish the activity, discuss how each person in the watershed can make a difference in the quality of the Delaware River ecosystem. Ask what changes the players could make to improve water quality and habitat. What would they be willing to “give up” to protect the river? What did they learn about how to begin protecting the river? Discuss lifestyle changes/choices.

Role Cards

  • I live on the river north of East Stroudburg. My septic system doesn’t treat wastewater from my house adequately. It will cost me $2,000 to upgrade it. Id rather go on a vacation. I have to choose to fix my septic system or pollute the river. [Pay or add 1 drop of yellow water and toilet paper.]
  •  I use my boat on Lake Erie and then take it on a trailer to Lake Nockamixon in Nockamixon State Park. I don’t wash off my boat and I can possibly introduce invasive species. From Lake Nockamixon, milfoil can spread to the Delaware River. [If you choose to wash your boat, do 10 jumping jacks, otherwise, add a tangle of yarn.]
  • I work for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. We salt the bridge on Route 209 near Dingman’s Ferry during the winter. This makes the road safe for travel, but the salt runs off in the spring and pollutes the river. [Add 2 drops of red water.]
  • I am the purchasing agent for a wafer board plant near Lakawaxen River. I have the option to buy pulpwood at a lower rate from loggers that I know don’t follow Best Management Practices for harvesting. If I buy from them, I’ll save the company money, but erosion and sedimentation to the river will increase. [If you choose to save money, add mud.]
  • I run a paper mill near Milford. We use 500,000 gallons of water each day to make paper. The water is supposed to be cleaned before it goes back to the stream. I know there is a problem and chemicals are still in the water. If I tell, I will lose my job; if I don’t, pollution of the river will continue. [Give up job or add 2 drops of red water.]
  • I am a 15-year old from Easton. I am young enough to fish without a license and I take more fish than the legal limit every time I go fishing. [Take out 1 fish.]
  • I own a resort near the Delaware Water Gap. Tourists will stay at my resort as long as the Delaware River is clean and they can catch fish. If the river is too polluted, they won’t stay and my resort will close. [Compare water from the bucket to the standard color. If the water from the bucket is darker than the standard, it is too polluted and people won’t stay at the resort.]
  • I am a farmer near New Hope. I have to choose whether to spend $7 on a soil test to decide how much fertilizer to use. If I apply too much fertilizer, it will run off into my drainage ditches and down to the river. [Pay for the soil test, or add 2 drops of green water.]
  • I live along the Tohickon Creek and want to build a sauna on the shore so we can jump in the water to cool off. To pipe the soapy water back to our septic system will cost $1,000. Nobody will ever know if I just let it run into the creek . [Pay or add 1 drop of soapy water.]
  • I ’m a school teacher in Yardley. I can choose to work extra hours after school and during vacation as an advisor for the students’ RiverWatch program. The students’efforts could identify sources of pollution and lead to improved water quality. If I don’t volunteer, the RiverWatch program will collapse. [If you choose to volunteer, run around the group twice. If you don’t volunteer, add 1 drop of yellow water.]
  • I work for the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We need 70 million gallons of water from the Delaware River each day for our city water supply. The average citizen uses 60–70 gallons of water per day. [Remove 7 cups of water.]
  • I live near Bristol and must pay $20 a month for garbage pickup. It’s cheaper and easier to dump the garbage in my backyard. I have to choose to pay or keep throwing garbage out back where it sometimes ends up in the river. [Pay or add 1 drop of red water and some litter.]
  • I live near Garden City. I drained a wetland on my property. This wetland used to slow runoff down a creek to the Ridley Creek. Now mud is carried into the Delaware River. [Add mud.]
  • I live near the Pennypack Creek and want to have a nice green lawn right down to the river. I can choose to use chemicals to kill weeds or pull them out by hand. [If you choose chemicals, add 1 drop of red water, if you choose to pull by hand, do 10 toe touches]
  • I own an industry in Chester, but live in California. I don’t care if the Delaware River is polluted as long as I make money. [Add 3 drops of red water.]
  • I am Mother Nature. I supply water to the watershed by rain.
    [Roll the die, add water according to the following:]

    1 = slightly dry year, add 1 cup

    2 = normal year, add 2 cups

    3 = slightly wet year, add 3 cups

    4 = drought year, add no water

    5 = second drought year in a row, remove 1 cup

    6 = very wet year, add 6 cups

Continue to:
Unit 6, Lesson 1.:  The Delaware River game.

Go Back to:
Unit 5, Lesson 1: What is a watershed?

Updated: May 2018