Hamilton—the City of Waterfalls—has a water problem. High levels of contaminants, including E. coli and coliform bacteria, are found in a number of the streams that lead to Cootes Paradise, and the impact of the pollution is a concern of the City of Hamilton, the Royal Botanical Gardens and many other community and environmental groups. Through a unique instructional initiative, a group of Redeemer students have identified one of the likely sources of this contamination, and they presented the results of their research to community representatives as part of a public presentation.
As part of a project-based learning approach to his Analytical Chemistry class this semester, students of Dr. Darren Brouwer performed water quality monitoring of the Chedoke Creek watershed which drains into Coote’s Paradise and Hamilton Harbour. Throughout the semester, students sampled sites along the Chedoke Rail trail and analyzed the water.
Their research identified one point—the Mountview Falls—as having significantly higher levels of contamination. The nature of the contaminants, along with the characteristics of the catchment area above Mountview Falls – which is much more residential and developed than the others – led the class to identify the pollution as most likely caused by “cross connections” between sanitary and storm sewers in residences on the mountain.
Mark Bainbridge of the city’s public works department was present for the presentation and acknowledged that cross connections are a problem, one that the city is working to address. “As part of the Hamilton Harbour Remediation Plan, we have done our own sampling since 2000, with similar results. We have already reversed 50 of these improper connections, but it is an expensive process that requires excavation of people’s property.” The city has 3 pilot projects underway that are providing data and research that will be used to develop a comprehensive remediation program.
Also present at the presentation were representatives from the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Bay Area Restoration Council, the Hamilton Conservation Authority and A Rocha, a local Christian environmental group that includes Peter Scholtens ’96. “Peter is the one who suggested that Redeemer sponsor a research project looking into contamination,” notes Dr. Brouwer.
This project was made possible in part from an Instructional Development Grant, awarded to Dr. Brouwer by Redeemer as a way of encouraging alternative methods of teaching and learning. “This was an example of project-based learning,” notes Dr. Brouwer. “We identified a real-world problem and just dove into it, learning as we went along. We don’t know all the issues in what is a very complicated issue, but our goal is to contribute one piece to the larger discussion.“
Many of the groups that were present commended the class for their work, noting the very professional way it is contributing to this conversation. Mark Bainbridge noted the important role that research like this has. “This work raises public awareness of the issue. It helps garner support and build momentum to finding and resourcing the solutions needed to resolve a complicated problem.”
For many of the students, it was a great opportunity to get out of the classroom and do some “real” research, even if it meant collecting samples in the cold and the rain, and spending countless hours counting coliform colonies in petri dishes. Jared Van Huizen a third-year student from Trenton, ON , one of the students in the class, noted that the project was more than just an assignment. “I call Hamilton my home now,” he says. “I love the city, especially its natural beauty, and this is one way I can be involved, to help.”
The research data will be forwarded to the city, which is grateful for the data that has been collected as it continues to address the issue.