This summer, 10 Biology and Public Health students from USJ are helping to keep Connecticut residents safe from waterborne illnesses. Under the guidance of Kirsten Martin, Ph.D., associate professor of Biology, the students are responsible for collecting Scantic River water samples from six locations in East Windsor and monitoring those samples for total fecal coliform and E. coli levels. Five additional locations in Enfield and Somers are also being monitored by Dr. Martin.
Martin, who developed and has been running the Scantic River Water Monitoring Program since 2010, has dedicated her time to environmental-monitoring projects for several years. The Scantic River E. coli Monitoring Project began in 2015. By monitoring the water’s pH level and temperature and testing for E. coli, Martin and her students are making a difference in the community.
“Nobody else is actively monitoring this river,” said Martin. “It’s used for recreation, for swimming, for subsistence. The levels have been dangerously high several times this summer, so if the students weren’t out there monitoring, you’d have people potentially getting very, very sick.”
By taking part in this town government-funded project, students are putting their classroom knowledge to use in the field, learning how their education can be used to help others and the environment overall. In addition to fieldwork, students also gain professional experience – whether that includes explaining their project to the general public who approach them while collecting samples or meeting with the project collaborators and town selectmen to discuss the findings.
Their work is benefiting the state greatly as a decrease in staff has impacted the extent of water testing across Connecticut. The data USJ students collect informs towns, as well as the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, allowing state professionals to take the appropriate action to keep residents safe.
The seasonal project will conclude with a technical report by Martin in the fall, followed by potential presentations at several local conferences, where students will share their findings and detail the experience.
“I give them a lot of ownership with this project,” Martin remarked. “This is their project: their names will be added to the long list of people who are involved. It’s not busy work; it’s really crucial, important work. And we’re one of only a few universities in the state that does it.”
The Scantic River E. coli Monitoring Project is supported by funds from the Town of Enfield, the Town of East Windsor, the Scantic River Watershed Association, the East Windsor American Heritage Rivers Commission, and a grant from the Connecticut Society for Women Environmental Professionals. Individuals interested in the test results can go to the Connecticut River Conservancy’s “Is it Clean?” website (http://connecticutriver.us).