CUAHSI developed the Let’s Talk About Water program as a formula for hosting successful film events for water science education. Let’s Talk About Water brings attention to water and environmental issues by using film and panel discussions to engage audiences and encourage critical thinking.

Films can be powerful education tools because they use storytelling to engage audiences emotionally. This heightens audience interest, helps make real-world connections with the subject matter, and catalyzes a discussion. Documentary films are especially good at creating teachable moments by demonstrating the wider context of science. Documentaries also provide the opportunity to apply critical thinking skills by testing the validity of the film’s message. Plus, everyone loves to go to the movies!

The formula is simple: A panel of experts and the audience view a water documentary (such as "FLOW," "Last Call at the Oasis," or "Gasland") together followed by an extended moderated discussion period between the panel and the audience. Moderators actively manage the discussion by challenging the panelists with follow up questions, asking questions to simplify the language the expert is using, and passing a question among panelists to bring out different points of view.

A 2011 EOS article describes the general formula we have used for these events.

Each fall, CUAHSI hosts a Challenge Grant Competition that awards three universities up to $3,000 to support the development of their own LTAW events. Organizers often work with their university, other universities in the area, student groups, and other sources (foundations, sponsors, etc.) to hold these events. 

Let’s Talk About Water Challenge Grant Program 

About the Challenge Grant Program

The Challenge Grant program helps support universities in the development of their own Let’s Talk About Water water science outreach events. Primarily supported by the Johnson Family Foundation, the Challenge Grant program is awarded on a dollar for dollar matching basis - meaning that CUAHSI matches funds raised by the university (up to $3,000). 

A limited number of Challenge Grants of up to $3,000 each will be awarded in December 2017 to support Let’s Talk About Water (LTAW) events in 2018. These funds are awarded on a 1-to-1 matching basis meaning that you must provide $1 for each $1 CUAHSI provides with a cap of $3,000 on CUAHSI’s support. LTAW events for this round of Challenge Grant funding must take place between January 1 and November 30, 2018.

In addition to the matching funds, Challenge Grant recipients will receive film and program consultation from Program Director Linda Lilienfeld, who developed the LTAW format.  Linda has 35 years of film research experience and has screened over 300 water films and designed successful LTAW events all over the world.  Whenever possible, Linda (or another CUAHSI staff member) travels to the event to provide support on site. More information about the LTAW program formula can be found in this EOS article


Student groups or university faculty are eligible to apply for a Challenge Grant, but the grant must be awarded to a U.S. university, therefore the applicant must be affiliated with a university. 


Applications are reviewed by a selection committee and are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Evidence of availability of matching funds and ability to cover complete cost of event (40%)
  • Clarity of program objectives and target audience (25%)
  • Approach for attracting the target audience (20%)
  • Potential to contribute to the legacy for the LTAW program (resource materials, regular event) (15%)

Photo Credits: Jennifer Cohen (LTAW event at Oregon State University)