Clean water was the topic of the Sound of the Environment meeting for October, which took place last Wednesday as ecology students from Goshen College proposed a project to continuously monitor the water quality in Elkhart County.

Sound of the Environment is a monthly gathering, open to the public and business people of Elkhart. It is designed to provide an opportunity for people to come together and discuss environmental problems as well as sustainable solutions.

Ryan Sensenig, assistant biology professor, teamed up with Melisssa Kinsey, coordinator of the Rieth Interpretive Center, to start the Community Clean Water project, eventually bringing it to his ecology class this fall.

Although the entire ecology class will test parts of the Elkhart River, Mill Race and Goshen Dam Pond, only a few will monitor and publicize the data collected. Chase Snyder, a senior,  Zach Clouse, a sophomore, Jin Jing, a junior,  and Mike Miller, a second-year, volunteered to work on the Community Clean Water Project. Five separate checkpoints have been set up where the team will check the water regularly.

The group will focus on testing the water's pH, nitrate and phosphate levels, as well as the presence of E. coli and other chemicals. Jing is especially interested in foreign chemicals while Miller is interested in learning more about both the natural and invasive plants on the river.

Snyder and Clouse will not only spend time evaluating the water, but they will publish the results as well. Snyder plans to “create a framework for publishing information gathered from the water.” This includes setting up a website to allow easy access and viewing for the public. Their long-term goal is to set up a database that can be used indefinitely.

Tori Yoder, a junior,  is currently interning at Rieth Interpretive Center and will help publicize the project. She plans to create a blog that will be “user-friendly for non-science majors,” as well as set up signs at the monitoring checkpoints.

After learning how to test the water and developing a plan for monitoring, Snyder, Miller, Clouse and Jing presented their project to the community during the meeting.

Sensenig explained that it is important to have these meetings because builders, business people and the public all attend, and each has a different set of skills, all of which are needed to come up with sustainable solutions.

A main goal of the project, however, is not just to assess the water quality but to involve Elkhart citizens as well. Ideally, volunteers will pick up where the students leave off at the end of the semester. Kinsey sees the project as an opportunity for a partnership between Goshen College and the local community, so that when the semester ends, the project continues.

“There are things that we as citizens need to be doing,” Kinsey said during the meeting.

Student involvement in the community is important as well. According to Sensenig, projects evolve to be interdisciplinary when students work outside of the classroom; they get to see real life issues such as city zoning and fundraising.

“[It] provides relevance for learning that can’t readily be talked about in class,” said Sensenig.

The monitoring project aims to publicize the water quality in order to determine its health. “We want a healthy environment for our kids to go fishing and swimming in,” Sensenig said. “In a society like ours, it isn’t asking too much.”

Sound of the Environment meets at noon on the first Wednesday of every month and is open to the public. The next meeting will be Nov. 4 at the Rieth Interpretive Center in Goshen.