New Initiative to Monitor School’s Water Quality

In the coming months, a new long-term project to study the School’s water quality in the campus stream known as the Shipetaukin Creek and to incorporate more sustainable practices in partnership with the Stroud Water Research Center will start.

In the coming months, a new long-term project to study the School’s water quality in the campus stream known as the Shipetaukin Creek and to incorporate more sustainable practices in partnership with the Stroud Water Research Center will start. The project is a student-led study with the goal of implementing sustainable practices within the campus stream and monitoring how these new practices affect water quality.

Director of Sustainability Stephen Laubach P’23 noted that there are already specific areas of the stream and pond that the project aims to improve upon. Next to the creek by the fieldhouse parking lot, there’s “erosion from the parking lot going directly into the stream [and] there’s no native vegetation to slow down the flow of water and the erosion that stormwater runoff can cause,” he said. During the summer when the pavement is hot, water that flows from the pavement into the stream can reach temperatures as high as 180 degrees Farhenheit. “Warm water holds less oxygen, so any high quality wildlife [like] insect larvae, fish, or minnows...can’t survive in that water if it’s getting periodically hit with water that is that warm,” Laubach said.

Stream buffers are one way to prevent erosion, and this stream monitoring can document improvements in water quality from such practices. Stream buffers are five to 10-foot layers of native vegetation planted along shorelines to prevent erosion and provide habitat for native wildlife, such as birds, insects, and turtles. In 2009, a two-foot buffer was placed along some edges of the pond, but with the new project, larger buffers will be planted along all shorelines, especially next to pavement downstream of the pond where erosion is common, and extend all the way up through the School’s golf course. To protect the stream from pollutants and high temperatures from the pavement, there are also plans to put in rain gardens. Rain gardens are shallow depressions in the ground constructed along parking lots and other paved areas that are planted with native plants. As rain falls and water flows downhill towards the stream, these dugout areas collect the water. This protects the stream by capturing pollutants that parking lots normally have and allows them to percolate into the soil. “That’s preferrable; the soil can distribute those pollutants and make them less harmful, as opposed to if they go in the water and they’re collecting all the way down stream towards the Delaware River,” Laubach said. The rain gardens also protect the stream and pond from reaching dangerously high temperatures when the pavement gets hot by collecting rainwater that hits it.

In February, faculty will meet with scientists and educators from the Stroud Water Research Center to survey the site and make plans. In April, environmental science classes will work with them in labs to start monitoring the water quality. “Students will be sharing what parameters they’d like to measure and learn from researchers from the Stroud Center some of the things that would be of importance, like volatile organic compounds from car runoff, nitrogen, phosphorous, pH, and temperature,” Laubach said.

“People are concerned about climate change; they’re concerned about energy consumption… but another thing in this community that people are really concerned about is protecting the natural beauty of the campus,” Laubach said after reviewing a recent survey on sustainability. “I want the community to see that they can be a part of promoting practices that improve things like water quality here on campus… I want people to have some agency.”

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