Environmental studies majors Richard Doucette '14 of Southborough, Mass., and Felipe Aedo '14 of San Fernando, Chile, are completing a summer-long internship project that is making the Hoosic River healthier for the Northern Berkshire community.
The project - to discover where bacterial contaminants enter the Hoosic River in Adams, North Adams, Cheshire and Williamstown - is a collaborative effort with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Under the guidance of Dr. Elena Traister, chair of MCLA's environmental studies department, the students conducted research and lab procedures, and worked with public officials as they correct issues that degrade the Hoosic.
"But the most important thing I gained was a true appreciation for and connection to the rivers of the Northern Berkshires. This appreciation has also cultivated a desire to continue to push for a cleaner Hoosic River watershed area," said Doucette (right).
Throughout the summer, Doucette and Aedo conducted fieldwork as they looked for harmful bacteria at various sites along the river.
"Having clean waterways is beneficial to many people who live and work close to the rivers," said Aedo (pictured at top). "Alternatively, anything that has a negative impact on the waterways can have lasting negative effects for humans and wildlife."
"There definitely are some problem spots," Traister explained. "There were a couple of hot spots in Williamstown, and a handful in both Adams and North Adams, where we found some pipes that are leaking some sort of sewage into the river. All three towns have been very good about working and meeting with us."
Once a leaky pipe is found, Traister and her students work with town officials to access manholes and discover where the problems are. Already, one problem has been fixed in North Adams. They also met with Williamstown Department of Public Works officials earlier this week to examine a pipe via a special camera.
"In Adams, we found some farms where manure had not been very well confined. That washes into the river and leads to problems," she added.
"Understanding how our behaviors affect rivers and streams is vitally important," Doucette said. "I have many possible trajectories as an environmental studies major, but whatever career path I eventually pursue; my work will have a range of impacts on these waterways."
"This experience was invaluable," Aedo said. "I gained professional skills that I will use for the rest of my working life, and I was part of a project that will help generate lasting improvements in the quality of our rivers."
Traister said the work done by Doucette and Aedo, as well as by four other students who helped draft their quality assurance plan, will look great on a resume.
"Besides the extensive field work, they made presentations to town officials and will draft the final report. They're doing a fantastic job and are very familiar with all the ins and outs of the entire project," Traister said.
The project was particularly satisfying, Traister said, because the river is being cleared of harmful bacteria. Berkshire Regional Planning will design additional solutions, and a follow-up grant will further facilitate the fixes.
"It's very exciting to be involved with something that should so directly lead to a solution. And, not only are the students doing a great job on the project, it's really satisfying to see how it sparks their interest in pursuing stream ecology and water quality further."
This project has been financed partially with Federal Funds from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (the Department) under a s. 604(b) Water Quality Management Planning Grant. The contents do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of EPA or of the Department, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.