How One Kid Stopped The Contamination of a River
“I wanted to swim in the water, and Mom’s always said no,” Bowles told CityLab. But in 2015, after hearing her mom, Andrea Conrad, say that their neighbors were using illegal straight pipes, Bowles asked her what a straight pipe was. “She explained it’s a pipe from a home’s toilet into a waterway, with no filtration whatsoever,” Bowles recalled. “I had so many questions.”
Such as: If the river has poop in it from nearby houses, how many houses?
Bowles collected and analyzed water samples, running them through a filter funnel and putting the filter on an enterococci testing card. After 36 hours in an incubator, the colonies of fecal bacteria on the card turn blue. Bowles counted the blue dots. The results revealed levels of fecal contamination above Canada’s federal standards for swimming or boating. Among those sailing the LaHave waters at the time was Bowles’ little brother. Conrad chimed in, “You were mortified.” “I was,” Bowles answered. “So that’s the long beginning of how this all happened.” It turned out that an estimated 600 straight pipes were sending raw sewage right into the river.
Not long after her discovery, Bowles put up a large sign on the nearby wharf cautioning that the river was contaminated with fecal bacteria. She also wanted to create a Facebook page to alert members of the community, an idea her mother later agreed to as Bowles continued to see people in the river.
Stella Bowles mounted a sign on the wharf to warn swimmers.
“People don’t necessarily take to that well, when you’re telling them to get out of the water,” said Conrad. “So that’s why we decided as a family, we’ll do the Facebook page and see what happens, and go from there.”
“There was pushback, but not towards Stella,” added Conrad. “It was more towards the government and the lack of enforcement. And people who had straight pipes were obviously staying pretty quiet, right? Because they didn’t want to draw attention to the fact they had straight pipes.”
Bowles learned how to test the water from David Maxwell, a retired physician and former university professor who found out about the many straight pipes along the LaHave River after he moved to the area. The municipal district of Lunenburg (population just shy of 25,000) had conducted a survey in which 800 households self-reported using straight pipes, and Maxwell discovered that the house he bought was one of them.
“I proceeded then to get a septic system installed, because this horrified me as a physician,” said Maxwell. “I thought, ‘This is completely unacceptable.’” He also realized that LaHave water was not being tested, and sprang into action. “I rounded up a group of fellow citizens to collect water samples, and turned my kitchen into a microbiology lab and generated counts of bacteria for a two-year period.”
Maxwell noted the difference between his campaign and Bowles’s. “The essence of it is, how does the electorate influence their government? How do the people make their government do the right thing? … As an adult, I got nowhere. And as a kid with skills in social media and her own dismay at the failure of the adults, Stella really mobilized the political machine, because you can’t say no to a kid.”
Now 14, Bowles has co-written a book entitled My River that’s set for publication this September. She is distributing water-testing kits to other young people in Nova Scotia, paid for through grants and awards she received, and training them in how to test their local waterways.
“I want to show kids that science isn’t just a textbook like at school,” she said.
Original article can be found here: https://www.citylab.com/environment/2018/08/how-one-kid-stopped-the-contamination-of-a-river/567404/