Long Acres Ranch: Fabricating a Rainfall Simulator to Teach the Future

At Long Acres Ranch, we have teaching opportunities that link youth with lessons revolving around the ranch’s natural resources.  Recently, we partnered with the Seven Lakes High School FFA, located in Katy I.S.D. in Ft. Bend County, to fabricate a structure called a Rainfall Simulator—an educational tool to be used at Long Acres Ranch to show how working lands capture rainfall, rather than shed it. The Seven Lakes FFA Agricultural Mechanics and Metal Technologies teacher, Mr. Godwin, led the students in its construction and now their effort will be magnified as thousands of other students will benefit from the ideas shown during future demonstrations with the simulator.

Figure 1: Click on the 7Lakes FFA logo to go to see the good work being done by this FFA chapter in Katy, Texas.

The Rainfall Simulator creates a controlled environment allowing for a hands-on demonstration of how different soil surface conditions such as backyard monocultures, native grasslands, overgrazed pastures, and urban surfaces affect runoff and erosion. This device helps students understand how watershed management can be done in a more responsible way to improve soil and water conservation. By creating a rainfall event over a small, targeted area and allowing the water to travel in one of two paths:

  1. the water could soak into the replicated ground due to a porous layer of soil and drain out of the lower pipe outlet into a container labeled, “ground water” or;
  2. the water could run off the top of the soil surface, also know as the impervious layer (if the surface will not allow water to pass through, such as the asphalt), and through the top pipe outlet, draining into the container labeled “run-off water”.

After observing the scenario that actually occurs, students can draw conclusions about the effects of the various soil coverings on surface and ground water.

Figure 2: This Rainfall Simulator allows for adjustable slopes, rain-buckets and catch-buckets with varied soil surfaces and the ability to move across tough terrain to set up for demonstrations. Click here for a short video of the slope adjustment feature being demonstrated.

Mr. Godwin led a team of 10 advanced welding students in the engineering and fabrication of the Rainfall Simulator. He examined prior versions of Rainfall Simulators, and worked with his team of students to develop pragmatic enhancements to the design allowing for a variable soil surface slope, and sturdier wheels to travel over rough terrain.

We had a chance to talk with Mr. Godwin and his team of students and ask questions about their program.

 

*How many kids are in the welding program? “We have 47 students enrolled in our welding program this year.” – Mr. Godwin

 

*What courses do you teach in your vocational Ag program? “I currently teach Principles of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, Ag Mechanics and Metal Technologies, and Ag Structures Design and Fabrication.” – Mr. Godwin

 

*What courses are offered in the SLHS vocational Ag program? “Here at Seven Lakes we teach a variety of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources courses. We offer Principles of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, Ag Mechanics and Metal Technologies, and Ag Structures Design and Fabrication, Floral Design, Small Animal Management, Wildlife and Ecology Management, Equine Science, and Advanced Animal Science.” – Mr. Godwin

 

*How many students are in the SLHS vocational Ag program? “For the 2018-2019 School Year we have a total of 255 students enrolled throughout our program.” – Mr. Godwin

 

*How long did it take to build the rainfall simulator? “It took at total of three weeks working one class period a day to complete the project.” – Mr. Godwin

 

Mr. Godwin’s students joined in and answered the following questions. Check out some of their big-time insights into conservation!

Figure 3: “Despite all our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains.” I think that statement says a lot for the need of soil and water conservation.” – SLHS Ag Mechanics Student

 

*What went into the planning and building of the rainfall simulator? “First, we had to look at the sketch that was provided by the customer. Then we had to go into looking at materials needed and quantities, so we could get a quote and order the metal. Finally, we had to get an overall game plan of how the mechanics would work as far the moving parts of the project. After getting all the materials and project planned out how it would go, it was simple and easy, cut the materials and start welding them together.” – SLHS Ag Mechanics Student

 

*What kind of skills do you think you develop, when fabricating a project like this one? “Some of the skills we learned were all of the geometry and physics that goes into a project like this. Layout and design is something we have worked multiple times with all our projects, but with moving parts like this we had to be able to see the starting point and the ending point of the top shelf in order to make everything work correctly.” – SLHS Ag Mechanics Student

 

*How does it feel knowing that something that you are building, is going to be used by thousands of youth to learn about soil and water conservation?  “Building a project like the rainfall simulator is something that I will be able to take back with me knowing that I helped people my age and younger learn about the conservation of our earth. It has been a great learning experience and I hope that everyone gets the impact that we got by building it. We only get a few chances in our lives to be an impact into someone else’s life, and I hope that this project will help guide people for years and years to come. – SLHS Ag Mechanics Student

 

*As an Ag student, what are your thoughts as to the importance of soil and water conservation? As everyone knows, conservation is at an utmost importance at this time in our lives. Multiple species are going extinct each day on Earth. Soil and water are two things we cannot take for granted. Without soil and water, we would not be able to build our homes, grow our food, or do anything for that matter. Everyone comes from the soil under our feet. My Ag teacher has a sign in his room that says, “Despite all our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains.” I think that statement says a lot for the need of soil and water conservation.” – SLHS Ag Mechanics Student

Figure 4: “Building a project like the rainfall simulator is something that I will be able to take back with me knowing that I helped people my age and younger learn about the conservation of our earth.”

For more information on Soil and Water Conservation topics and resources please visit: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/

For more information on Watershed Management please visit: https://menard.agrilife.org/ag-natural-resources/rainfall-simulator/

 

 

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