Water tests draw Cape Elizabeth students to land trust project

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Local high school students have been taking more than just their own tests this year – they’ve been taking them for the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, too.

The land trust is working with a group of Cape Elizabeth High School students to test water quality in Great Pond and Alewife Brook. 

The partnership was made possible through a $1,500 grant from the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Students began the testing in May.

According to the land trust’s website, the grant allowed for the purchase of a meter that tests the water’s temperature, acidity, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and dissolved solids.

Natasha Rathlev, education coordinator for the land trust, said interest from the community prompted the study. Great Pond especially, she said, is heavily used by people in town.

“It’s relatively large, some people fish on it and kayak and ice skate on it in the winter,” she said. “There was some interest in how that water is, if it’s a healthy system.”

From there, Rathlev said she contacted John Holdridge, volunteer and extended learning opportunities coordinator at CEHS, about having students conduct the testing.

A unique aspect of the project is that the students involved are not doing the testing as part of a class.

Rathlev said after Holdridge put the word out, the project was able to attract students of different grade levels who are “really interested in the topic.”

She said she met with the students “quite a bit” last fall, but by then it was too late in the season to conduct any testing, as the ideal time is between spring and fall.

Through her meeting with students, however, Rathlev realized the need to purchase a meter, which is what inspired her to apply for the grant.

Testing began at the end of the last school year. The project was on hiatus over the summer, but resumed after school began again in September.

In addition to the water properties tested by the meter, students also examined how the water looked, its odor, and signs of organisms in the surrounding area to gauge the water’s natural state.

Rathlev said they also considered how the weather, such as air temperature and rain levels, could be affecting the water.

“What we were trying to do is collect information to try to get what the water looked like on a normal basis,” she said.

That way, if something were to change, it would be fairly obvious.

Holdridge said the collaboration is the result of “deep relationships” between Cape Elizabeth schools and the larger community.

He also said the project is “a small part of” the work that the land trust does in the town’s schools.

“Natasha, and her predecessors in the position, as well as numerous CELT volunteers, contributes an enormous amount of time and energy to our schools,” Holdridge said. “CELT helps our students to discover and appreciate the natural world here in town.”

Overall, Rathlev said the results were relatively “stable” over the course of the summer, aside from times when the bodies of water were affected by the weather.

She also said the team was scheduled to conduct one last test for the season last week. The data will be posted to the land trust’s website in early 2019.

In addition to working with students that she said are “eager to learn,” Rathlev said another benefit of the testing project has been adding to the land trust’s educational programming.

“We have a great elementary school program, so this has been a great opportunity to expand our programming to reach the older students,” she said.

The Cape Elizabeth Land Trust has partnered with Cape Elizabeth High School students to test water in Alewife Brook and Great Pond. Results of the study will be posted on the land trust’s website early next year.

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