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Teach Your Children: Santa Fe Children's Museum

by Doug Pushard

The Santa Fe Children's Museum is full of surprises for young kids and adults, including a vast array of water awareness projects. The museum features a water play set, a water garden, water fountains and an extensive water catchment system. The goal of these water features is to teach children about water and how to conserve and manage it.

The Museum building was originally constructed in the 1930s and extensively remodeled in 1989 and now features over 5,000 square feet (462 square meters) of children exhibition area and one acre of outdoor play area, picnic spaces and landscaped grounds.

The outside grounds are home of an outdoors learning center. It is, dubbed "Earthworks", and features a collection of exhibits including: gravity and human powered watering systems, rainwater catchment system, biofiltration system, reuse of water, wetlands, berms, swales and an assortment of interactive water exhibits for children.

"The rain catchment systems forms the heart of our outside garden," according to Erin O'Neill, the Earthworks Garden Manager for the Santa Fe Children's Museum. "It supplies water to the garden, the pond and the children exhibits and is a system we are quite proud of," she says.

The water catchment system was built in 1997 and designed by local landscape architect Anne Nelson. It features a playful water cascade for children to play with and a set of berms and swales for the overflow which wind through the garden and play areas.

Rainwater is harvested off both the roof and the parking lot. Water off the over 6,000 square foot (557 square meters) roof funnels into two different systems. One system feeds a large cistern for use in the garden and a second set of downspouts funnel to a series of holding tanks that eventually run into the pond system.

The rainwater harvesting system consists of gutters and multiple downspouts feeding one tank capable of holding 10,000 gallons (37,900 liters) of water. The tank is above ground and is playfully painted to fit right into the surrounding play and learning area (see picture).

In an area that gets only 14 inches (35.5 centimeters) of rain a year, it is critical to teach young children how to manage and conserve water as well as capture as much rain as possible in order to reduce the monthly water bills for the non-profit museum. All overflow from the tank flow into the garden and not wasted or put into the local stormwater system. The cistern supply a gravity fed irrigation system and hoses to water the extensive garden.

The Museum also drains water off the over 25,000 square foot (2,322 square meters) parking lot into a set of berms that run through the garden area. This system of berms and resulting swale result in no storm water runoff leaving the site. It percolates into the ground and brings positive results to the local water table, while supplying water to support the plants in the garden. The surrounding garden and plants in turn provide habitat for beneficial insects and support a greater diversity of plant and wildlife.

The Earthworks garden is a simple, understandable model of sustainable methods for cleaning and reusing harvested rainwater. This model can be easily reproduced by businesses and homeowners alike for a reasonable amount of time and money; plus it provides monetary and aesthetic value for years to come.

The museum is open to the public from 10AM - 5PM Wednesday through Saturday and 12PM - 5PM on Sunday. It features a wide range of indoor and outdoor programs for children. Tours of the rainwater system can be arranged by contacting Erin at the Museum. The Museum is located at 1050 Old Pecos Trail. More information can be found at: www.santafechildrensmuseum.org


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Related Article: List of State and City Programs and Vendors
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