The Global Rivers Environmental Educational Education Network and the Case of the Rouge River in Detroit, Michigan.
The roots of the Interactive Rouge River Water Quality Monitoring Project began on the Huron River and Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In the Spring of 1984, William Stapp and Mark Mitchell approached a science teacher at Huron High School about a river project being developed at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources. Huron High School was an ideal site for implementing a pilot water quality monitoring program because it lies near Gallup Park on the Huron River, and because students windsurfed at Gallup Park and jumped from its bridges. There had been reports of windsurfers getting ear infections and diarrhea; at least one individual reported getting hepatitis. All of these illnesses could be linked to the water quality at Gallup Park.
Science classes learned how to safely and accurately run nine water quality tests that constitute the National Sanitation Foundation’s Water Quality Index (NSF,WQI). These nine tests include: dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, pH, biochemical oxygen demand, temperature, nitrates, total phosphates, turbidity, and total solids. Of these nine tests, fecal coliform was the most revealing in regard to public health concerns of students. Fecal coliform bacteria are found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans. These bacteria are used as indicators for the probability of contracting waterborne pathogens that cause hepatitis "A", dysentery, and gastroenteritis. Based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies, the government has set a standard of 200 fecal coliform colonies/100 ml of water for total body contact, such as swimming (and for most people, windsurfing).
Through the water quality monitoring program, students measured levels of 1,500-4,500 fecal coliform colonies/100 ml of water many times higher than acceptable levels for total body contact. Students discovered that storm sewers upriver from Gallup Park were implicated as the primary source of fecal coliform bacteria. In response to information-gathering by students and their fecal coliform data, students began to compose letters of concern to the Ann Arbor News, to City Council, to the County Health Department, and to the Arm Arbor Parks and Recreation Department. The result of student efforts, citizen response, and a School of Public Health study was the erection of a sign at Gallup Park warning the public not to windsurf after rains.
In 1985, the project spread downriver to Belleville High School in Belleville, Michigan. Here students in Ecology class were eager to monitor Belleville Lake-a focus of recreation, especially water skiing and fishing. This impoundment of the Huron River had been closed twice to recreation in the previous ten years because of high fecal coliform levels. An important development in the design of the program occurred when a group of Belleville High School students and a group of Huron High School students met to look at water quality data, and try to determine why water quality changed over this 13 mile (21 km) stretch of river.
In 1986, the project grew to include Dexter High School and Middle School in Dexter, Michigan upriver from Huron High School. Students and teachers from these schools, from Huron High School, and from Belleville High School met to share information, to systematically collect benthic macroinvertebrates as indicators of water quality, and to plot their combined data using a computer graphing program. The experiences and insights gained in three years of work with science classes along the Huron River set the stage for work along the Rouge River. Over the past five years, many of our educational colleagues have been involved in an effort to improve education and the environment in the Detroit metropolitan region-and to transfer this model to other national and international regions. This chapter is directed at the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of a water quality monitoring model that is presently being used and adapted in over 200 rivers in North America, and in over 50 nations on all continents.
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