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Teacher supplement: Run the river

Run the River – A Water Sharing Challenge is about the challenges of balancing water use between various water consumers, including the environment, agriculture, and towns/cities. The natural water cycle is also a core part of the game. Running from 1905 to 2006, real historic and modelled data from the Murray–Darling Basin is used to show the challenges faced during different periods of the Basin's history. 

A collection of screenshots from the app

Lesson ideas

General tips

Run the River can be used as a teaching tool with all but the very youngest students. Particularly from upper primary on it finds particular relevance for geography or science lessons on water usage/management and the water cycle. The learning curve is such that all ages find the game accessible, while the final level presents an extreme challenge for even seasoned gamers.

The game is best played by one person at a time. A good compromise with small groups sharing one device is to swap players with each new level.

It takes about 20 minutes to finish the tutorial, which introduces the most important game concepts. If possible, however, additional time is recommended for students to experience the later levels, which present a number of historical challenges to water management up to the present day. These make a great introduction to further classroom discussion and activities on the relevant subject.

The water cycle

Run the River is ideal for teaching about the water cycle (Year 7/8 Science & Geography). The resource below incorporates Run the River and a student worksheet.

The water cycle PDF  DOCX

Game concepts explained

The landscape

Run the River screenshot: landscape

The in-game landscape presents a non-specific area of the southern Murray-Darling Basin. The river flows down from a mountainous region (e.g. the Victorian Alps) across a flat floodplain until it reaches the ocean at the bottom right of the screen. Visible at the screen edge is a cross section of the landscape showing the watertable and groundwater supply.

Water & water consumers

Run the River screenshot: wetland

The river is full of droplets moving downstream, representing the flow of available water. The player's task is to make sure these droplets get to all the water consumers that need it. Wetlands are the first consumer introduced by the game. Every consumer has a water gauge showing the water level. When the water level gets low, tap the gauge to replenish it with any nearby 'drops'.

River mouth

Run the River screenshot: river mouth

The river mouth is the second water consumer you will discover. The river mouth needs water flowing to it to stay connected with the ocean and keep it flushing salt out of the river (an important check on the river's salinity).


Run the River screenshot: events

Small round 'event' icons will appear next to the consumer's water gauge to show what is using water from that consumer. For example, birds and fish will appear around the wetland’s water gauge to show that these animals require water from the wetlands. If there's no water, you can fail the event (and three fails ends the game!)


Run the River screenshot: evaporation

Whenever water is delivered to consumers, some of it evaporates. Small clouds will appear as water evaporates from the surface or transpires from plants. This will speed up the formation of rain clouds.


Run the River screenshot: rainfall

Clouds have rain gauges which show how full they are. Most rain falls in the mountains and only some will benefit consumers. See this related graphic of the water cycle.

The date

Run the River screenshot: calendar

Your progress through the level and seasons is shown in the calendar bar in the top right of the screen. Consumers need more water in hotter months, and as was the case historically, some years are much drier than others.

The dam

Run the River screenshot: the dam

Level 2 introduces the dam, which is built for the greater number of people living along the river. You can use the dam to store water to use later in the game. A real life example is Dartmouth Dam in Victoria.

Run the River screenshot: dial

To let more or less water out of the dam, roll the dial up or down. The inside of the dial also shows you the dam level. The dam only fills up when it rains over the mountains, so be careful not to leave yourself high and dry!

The town

Run the River screenshot: the town

Another consumer, the town, appears in level 2. It needs water all year round to support the needs of its people.


Run the River screenshot: the farm

Farms need plenty of water in the growing season, so they can grow enough food to support the people in the town.

The city

Run the River screenshot: the city

As you successfully make it through the levels your town will grow into a city. But more people means more water is needed to support them.


Run the River screenshot: the watertable

In later levels you are able to access groundwater to provide extra water for farms, towns and cities. The top of the groundwater is called the watertable, and its level is shown in the gauge in the bottom left of the game screen.

Run the River screenshot: groundwater

You can use this groundwater when there is no water available in the river. But be careful – over-watering a farm, town, or city, adds water back to the groundwater and can lead to the watertable rising to unhealthy levels.

Failed events

Run the River screenshot: failed events

If there is not enough water in a consumer’s water gauge, you could fail an important event, such as a successful bird breeding season. These failures are marked with a red cross. You can fail one or two events of each water consumer, but if you fail three you will have to restart the level!

Your report card

Run the River screenshot: report card

Each level records your actions so you can see how well you performed. See the differences in rainfall, water consumption, evaporation and dam releases. You’ll also get a three-star rating for each water consumer in the level based on any failed events.

Related links

The Water Sharing Game

A simple group activity for young students to try sharing water in the real world.

Find out more


We welcome any feedback or comments to

Updated: 03 May 2018