Winning the Water Quality Game

group of faculty and students surround a table and play the Watershed GameBoard games have long been a staple of entertainment. They are usually played with a group of people, and the goals are roughly the same: win the game by acquiring the most resources or by surviving various challenges.

The Alabama Water Institute at The University of Alabama is taking that a step further by using the Watershed Game to teach people around campus and Tuscaloosa how to win water quality battles in real life.

“We believe bringing tools like this game to the Alabama Water Institute helps faculty train and educate students about the complex nature of watershed management,” said Dr. Patricia Sobecky, executive director of AWI. “It can also be a tremendously useful tool for helping elected leaders in their decision-making and for helping communities work collaboratively when it comes to managing their watersheds.”

The Watershed Game for Local Leaders comes in three models: streams, rivers and lakes. Each version is played on a large map that shows various examples of everyday life surrounding each source of water, such as construction, farming and residential areas. The goal of the game is to reduce the overall amount of pollutants, including excess sediment and phosphorous, from entering the water from the surrounding land. Each area has different practices and policies that can help. Players form “land-use teams” and are given a budget that dictates which of the practices they can afford and how many pollutants can be deducted from their area. A team’s budget can be affected by unexpected events and advance planning, which help teach players how to deal with and prepare for external factors in the real world.

The classroom version is designed for use with a full class, has an electronic scoring component and includes small-group and whole-class play components.

Campus and local groups interested in getting access to and playing the Watershed Game may contact Sobecky at