What started off as an elementary school science project has now become a major project to save the LaHave River, after Stella Bowles found extremely high levels of bacteria in the Bridgewater, N.S. river.
The cause? 600 homes along the river with straight pipes releasing raw or partially-treated sewage directly into the water.
“You can’t even touch the water it’s so contaminated,” Bowles said. “If the level is 70 then you shouldn’t swim and 170 you shouldn’t even get the water on your skin. Most of my locations were all over 170.”
The 12-year-old collected and analyzed samples for months, and her research has lead to the promise of a clean-up plan for the river.
Bowles started a Facebook Page that now has thousands of followers to try to bring awareness about the problem to her community and beyond.
Thursday afternoon, the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg and the provincial government signed a memorandum of understanding to address the discharge of raw sewage into the LaHave River.
“The Department of Environment is pleased to be a partner in this agreement and to add our support and expertise in returning the LaHave River to what it once was; a healthy ecosystem,” said Environment Minister Margaret Miller.
“We have heard from our children, our citizens and our community that we need to protect our beautiful river,” added Mayor Don Downe.
Straight pipes illegal
Straight pipes are actually illegal under the Environment Act, however officials say no charges have ever been laid against home owners in the Bridgewater area.
Despite the river being an environmental disaster for decades, no steps were ever taken to clean up the river until the problem was highlighted by Bowles.
“My special thanks again to Stella,” said Miller. “It’s a fine example of why no one should underestimate the power and perseverance of youth in having to bring about positive action.”
“I think that it’s really cool that I’ve pretty much made it — started all this, or brought attention to the issue,” Bowles said
Under the terms of the agreement, the province and the municipality will partner on a graduated compliance program. That includes increasing awareness about environmental damage from straight pipes and identifying properties with dealing with straight pipes.
Project looking for federal funding
In order to support the LaHave River clean up financially, the municipality is looking for federal money under the New Building Canada Fund.
If funding is received, the municipality will manage a program to replace the straight pipes with approved septic systems. Officials say residents will be required to repay costs not covered by grants over a seven-year period.
So far, no funding for the crucial project has not been confirmed. Mayor Downe hopes to have the project complete and the river clean by 2023.
“It can’t be done by itself,” he said. “We’re talking a $17.7 million initiative going forward. It’s a huge, huge capital investment for a small little municipality.”
A decision on whether the federal government will fund the LaHave River clean up project will be made by next spring.