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The Water Sharing Game

The water sharing game is a simple and powerful illustration of the diverse uses and needs for water throughout the Murray–Darling Basin.

This game works best with about 10 students to start. You can increase the number of students and the complexity as you progress.

You will need

  • Clear plastic cups or glasses
  • A cup label for each cup
  • Clear, wide sticky tape
  • Water (use a jug)
  • Permanent pen

Download and print the labels below. Set up the game by attaching a label to each cup. You may wish to add a small mark, part of the way up the cup that is small enough to go unnoticed but large enough to be seen when pointed out.

 Download labels  [108KB]

Label legend









How to play

Line 10 or so students up and give each an empty cup. The first student should have the cup labelled 'dam'. The last student should have a cup labelled 'wetland'. All other students receive cups in any order. Identify the labels prior to commencing. Fill the cup labelled 'dam' approx 2/3 full (dams are rarely at capacity; this is a typical amount for a good year).

Basic version

Each player should keep an amount of water for themselves, and pass the rest on. Make sure everyone understands that once they give the water away they can't get it back, and no more is coming from the dam. Also make sure they know if the water doesn't get to the end of the system, the birds and fish in the wetland may die. (You may also choose to mention that salt can build up at the mouth of the river if it is not flushed out to sea which will kill native trees and fish, as well as damage farmlands). Once complete you can vary the game as many times as you like (suggestions below).

  • Optimum amount of water: Ask students to look for the black mark on each cup. This is the amount of water ideal for them to do everything they need or would like to do. Students then try to fill cups to the mark.
  • Drought: As normal but start off with 1/2 the usual amount of water in the dam. Ask students who should go without in an extended dry season.
  • Pipeline: Introduce the pipeline cup to take some water away from the river to a village and some farms. Divert some of the water each way at the fork.

In every version your aim is to get water to the end of the river system.

Related links

Run the River: a water sharing challenge

An app for mobile devices designed to represent the southern basin of the Murray–Darling river system. The app combines the natural water cycle with the challenges of an increasing demand for water.

Find out more

Basin sticker mapping activity

Blank A3 Map of the Basin with corresponding stickers of major river system, land use and towns: cartography by stickers!

Find out more

Updated: 03 May 2018