Students in Dr. Darren Brouwer’s Analytical Chemistry class completed a detailed study of the water quality of various tributaries in the Chedoke Creek sub-watershed. Expanding on a similar study done in 2012, the students’ research suggests that sewage is finding its way into these waterways, likely through cross-connections between sanitary and storm sewers. This has led to high levels of coliform and E. coli bacteria.
The students also shared their research in a public presentation attended by representatives from the City of Hamilton and several local environmental organizations. Representatives from the other groups present, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Environment Hamilton and the Bay Area Restoration Council, all agreed with the importance and effectiveness of civic engagement. Alan Hansell of the Stewards of Cootes Watershed said that work like this “… falls on receptive ears. The City does listen to its citizens and reacts.” The man responsible for Hamilton’s water agrees. Mark Bainbridge, Hamilton’s Director of Water and Wastewater Planning, was also present at the 2012 presentation. “We try to take a collaborative approach with citizens, and, as such, appreciate Redeemer’s ongoing pro-active initiatives to champion environmental stewardship,” he said. He noted that since 2012, 31 cross-connections have been fixed, and that this spring, the City set aside almost half a million dollars to identify and fix other sites.
The students were quick to add that theirs is only part of the work that is needed to address this complex issue over the long-term. Science, politics, engineering and environmental studies will all play a role in stopping damage from these cross-connections. But even beyond that, as Councilor Aidan Johnson said, “We must address the spiritual side of the problem.” The student presenters too saw the issue as one of spiritual significance, as well as scientific. “We are called to be stewards of this God-given creation,” Jacob Borgdorff explained, “and as such, we have a responsibility to do something. Through this class, we have been given an opportunity to explore and learn. We can’t just leave it at that.”
The course was designed with a project-based learning (PBL) approach. “The students learned the theories and tools of analytical chemistry by going through all aspects of a particular problem or project,” said Brouwer. “But beyond ‘just’ the science, the students also learned about city politics and infrastructure, and the development and implementation of environmental policies.” Through their shared research work, the students also learned about teamwork, problem-solving and the importance of communication. “This is the way you address this type of issue in the workforce,” Brouwer pointed out. “This type of experiential learning is incredibly valuable for students.”