Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 9 months 1 week ago

In Phase 0, I chose my inquiry project topic, water usage and treatment, by narrowing down a long list of possible topics with the help of advice and feedback from others. In Phase 1, I wrote down what I already know about my topic, without doing any background research, as well as questions I have that I am wondering about. I am currently working on the first steps of Phase 3, which will include the facts I learn about my topic as part of my research both before and during the trip. 

Background Information from Phase 1: 

Water is the most common substance on earth's surface, and every living organism needs water to survive. Humans use water for almost everything, from cleaning, cooking, and bathing to irrigating farmland and producing energy. It is our responsibility to treat the water we use, and then to dispose of it responsibly in the proper way. [5]

All the water on earth is continually moving and changing form, a process known as the water cycle. The sun's heat evaporates water off of oceans, lakes, and rivers. The water vapor rises, and as it gets higher it starts to cool into condensation, eventually falling back to Earth as rain, snow or other forms of precipitation. The water cycle is a continuous process that has been going on for millions of years. This means that there is the same amount of water on the earth today than there was a thousand years ago, or a million years ago. The issues humans face in present day are not usually lack of water or too much water, although there are occasionally droughts and heavy rainfalls in certain places, however humans are polluting our water systems around the globe, leading to bad water quality that makes it easier for bacteria and diseases to spread.[5]

The most common sources from which cities can draw fresh water are: underground aquifers or rivers and lakes. The source of a city's water depends on its proximity to bodies of water and population. Cities with a population of less than 5,000 people generally draw their water from the ground, while cities with larger populations typically draw their water from rivers and lakes. Cities near the coast can also obtain water from the oceans, but they have the extra step of removing the salt first. Once the water is drawn from its source, it is sent to a water treatment plant. Many cities use three basic processes to clean water: (1) coagulation and settling (2) filtration (3) disinfection. Usually, other processes are also done to the water to make it better. Aeration is done to improve taste and odor. Many communities also add fluoride to the water to help reduce tooth decay.[5]

After the water is treated, it is sent to homes, offices, and commercial buildings through a series of waterworks. Once we have used the water, to brush our teeth or take a shower, in most US cities the water is used to carry away waste, or sewage, in pipes beneath the streets. This is called the sewerage system. Almost all sewage is taken to a sewage treatment facility, where the bacteria is killed and the waste is filtered out. Then the water is returned to a river, stream, or lake. If we dump untreated sewage back into rivers and lakes, it can have drastic effects on the environment, and kill many local organisms.[5]

Humans also use water for irrigation. Irrigation is an artificial method of applying controlled amounts of water to fields in order to help crops grow. Irrigation is used for many reasons apart from just watering crops however. It is also used for maintaining landscapes, revegetating dry land, frost protection, cooling livestock, sewage disposal, and mining. Irrigation has many advantages, including food production increase, protection against drought, revenue generation, and mixed cropping. Revenue generation is when the regular supply of water is assured, and farmers can grow superior, higher priced crops in the place of inferior, lower priced crops. Mixed cropping is when multiple crops are grown together in the same field so that if a disease or unfavorable weather conditions appear, hopefully only one crop variation will be affected so not all the crops are wiped out. There are many types of irrigation methods, and each one is better for different climates and conditions.[1]

Surface Irrigation: When water moves across the surface of agricultural lands, and farmers make no attempts to prevent the land from flooding. When permitted, the water levels are controlled using dikes, which are typically plugged with soil. Surface irrigation is the oldest and arguably the simplest method of irrigation. It can be unpredictable however, because it is largely dependent on the water source and there is a high risk of crop failure. Surface irrigation is ideal for growing rice paddies and other crops of little value or for maintaining fields that will only be used for grazing. [1,2,4]

Basin irrigation: A more refined version of surface irrigation. Farmers direct water into a field enclosed by a raised bank using pipes, channels, or manual labor, rather than letting the field flood naturally. Farmers use this method because it is simple, however it also has disadvantages. Farmers have little control over the water directed into the field, and in addition it takes a large amount of water to receive the desired result. Basin irrigation is ideal for closely space crops with deep roots, such as rice and wheat, and only suitable for level land.[1,2,3]

Border Irrigation: Similar to basin irrigation, however the field is not entirely enclosed by a raised bank. Instead, water flows in through one end and is drained through the other. This method is ideal for sloping fields set on hills or valleys.[2,4]

Overhead Irrigation: Uses sprinklers to distribute water across large expanses of field. There are many kinds of sprinklers; some are manually controlled, and others are permanently fixed on large platforms that move across the fields. Farmers use sprinklers because they are efficient and can easily cover large areas of field. However, not many farmers can afford sprinklers, as they are expensive and machinery is needed. In addition, the foliage of plants also gets wet while using sprinklers, making it more likely for fungi and bacteria to grow. Other more refined methods of overhead irrigation include center-pivot irrigation, and traveling gun sprinkler systems.[1,2,3]

Micro Irrigation: Also known as trickle or drip irrigation, micro irrigation slowly drips small amounts of water directly over the roots of a plant, either from above or below on the ground. If managed properly, micro irrigation is the most precise and water-efficient method of irrigation, as it minimizes the amount of water that evaporates and avoids runoff. Apart from just watering plants, micro irrigation can also be used to deliver fertilizer, a process known as fertigation. Micro irrigation is ideal for watering fruits and vegetables, but can also be used to water orchards and vineyards. The advantages of using micro irrigation are; it is easy to control, precise, and water efficient. The downside of micro irrigation is that it is expensive, due to the tools and materials needed. Micro irrigation is frequently combined with plastic mulch to further reduce water evaporation.[1,2,3]

Mulch: Traditionally, mulch is placing a protective covering of organic materials around plants. For example, placing a layer of straw on the ground around strawberry plants will help keep the roots insulated when the conditions get cold. These days however, many farmers use plastic instead of organic mulch as part of their micro irrigation systems. This can include clear plastic bags around plants, or large sheets of plastic laid out across fields. Having clear plastic bags around plants allows sunlight to get in, but prevents heat from getting out, acting as a kind of greenhouse. It also reduces water evaporation. This can become a problem however, when too much water is trapped inside the bags, as it becomes an invitation for fungi and bacteria to grow on the foliage of plants. The benefit of laying plastic sheets across fields is that it acts as insulation for the crops roots, much as hay does. However, there are concerns that the extensive use of plastic will increase the amount of rainwater and pesticides running off into nearby water, and over time create long-term detrimental effects on the environment.[2,4]

Sub-irrigation: Application of water to plants from inside the ground, below the roots. This method is beneficial for two reasons. One, it greatly reduces water evaporation, and two, it creates no opportunity for surface runoff. The disadvantage of this method is that it is expensive, and not suitable for many areas as it requires a permanent pipe system.[1,4] 

Lake Erhai is known as the "Mother Lake" by locals. One of the largest highland lakes in Yunnan province, Lake Erhai has an elevation of 1,972 meters above sea level and covers an area of 256 kilometers squared. From North to South, Lake Erhai stretches about 42 kilometers, and at its widest point it stretches 9 kilometers. This "Mother Lake" is a major source of water for many cities and towns in the area, including Dali and Xizhou.[6]

The water quality of Lake Erhai has worsened in recent years, with three large outbreaks of toxic, blue-green algae occurring in 1996, 2003, and 2013. According to the local environmental protection authority, the amount of pollution in the lake had increased by 50% from 2004 to 2016, a span of only 12 years. Yang Fuquan, a senior researcher at Yunnan academy of Social Sciences, states that the discharge from lakeside hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants were the major source of pollution in Lake Erhai. The pollution in the lake that is not there because of industry is there because of agriculture. Surface runoff from nearby farms has been flowing freely into Lake Erhai. With the help of plastic mulch, or large sheets of plastic laid out across fields, there has been an increased amount of rainwater and pesticides running off directly into Lake Erhai.[6,7]

Since 2010, many middle-income workers have quit their jobs and entered the tourism business in Dali, Shuanglang, and other cities around Lake Erhai. It is estimated that there are currently over 2,400 lakeside hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants situated around Lake Erhai. This rapidly expanding tourism industry is good for Yunnan's economy, but bad for the water quality of the lake. Oftentimes, wastewater and garbage were found being disposed of directly into Lake Erhai, due to insufficient water and sewage treatment facilities. The results have been drastic effects on the local environment and life in the lake. In 2003, when Lake Erhai experienced a large scale algae bloom, the water quality of the lake dropped to class IV. The second worst rating out of five, class IV water is fit for industrial use or recreation without direct human contact, such as boating.[6,7,9] 

In order to restore the water quality of Lake Erhai to its original state, in 2017 all the lakeside hotels, lakehouses, and restaurants were forced to close by the government. Businesses cannot reopen until authorities confirm they have all the required permits, and that the new sewage pipeline system around Lake Erhai is completed. Since October 2018, 1,806 buildings that were inside the Lake Erhai protection zone, or within 15 meters of the shoreline, have been demolished. The government is now enforcing stricter building rules for all new establishments around the lake. In addition, it is now mandatory for all new real estate projects to be connected to sewage treatment facilities. Other efforts to preserve Lake Erhai include bans on lakeshore hatcheries, commercial fishing, motorized boat traffic, and the construction of artificial peninsulas extending out into the lake.[6,7] 

People living in the area have mixed feelings about all the restaurants and hotels shutting down. Tourist guide Liu Ge, who is a native of Dali, understands and supports the government's efforts in protecting Lake Erhai. However, other people are not so encouraging. A lot of people lost their jobs when their businesses shut down, and as a result their only source of money. A property evaluation company has been hired by the Dali government to offer compensation to all the owners of guesthouses, but many still believe that the money cannot make up for their losses.[6] 

The efforts of the government seem to be working. After spending billions of yuan, the water quality of Lake Erhai has returned to a class II. Class II water is suitable for drinking, but only after it has been filtered and disinfected. Maintaining a water quality of Class II has proven difficult, and the water quality has switched between II and III ever since. It is hoped that when the new sewage and water treatment facilities are constructed and operating, that we can permanently maintain a level II water quality in Lake Erhai.[7]

According to Eric Paci, an SAS PX 5th grade teacher who took a group of 5th graders to Xizhou last October, people in the town of Xizhou obtain water from three sources, depending on the use: mountains, wells, and Lake Erhai. According to Mr. Paci, who talked to the locals in Xizhou, the locals do not drink their tap water, which comes from Lake Erhai, because it has a bad taste. Instead, they drink water from underground wells and from reservoirs in the mountains surrounding Xizhou. Locals use the tap water from Lake Erhai to clean an[10]

Information from 3 to 5's:

Information from local contacts: 

Answers to previous questions from Phase 1:


1. Wikipedia January 8, 2020.
2. Shanghai American School H. Sujin. (Alumni-B) January 9, 2020.
3. Agriculture Victoria January 10, 2020.
4. How Stuff Works January 12, 2020.
5. World Book Online Student January 14, 2020.
6. China Daily January 18, 2020.
7. GoKunming January 19, 2020.
8. GoKunming January 20, 2020.
9. Baidu January 21, 2020.
10. Shanghai American School January 21, 2020. 


I am 13 years old and I am really excited to be going to Microcampus. I was born in North Carolina, and since then I have lived in Minnesota, Switzerland, and now Shanghai. I chose to study water treatment and usage, because I think it will be really interesting to learn about and I will be able to use this information in the future. I look forward to improving my Chinese and broaden my views of the world while I am at Microcampus.