Testing the waters: Trine group checking Steuben County streams

November 20, 2023

In the “home of 101 lakes,” water quality is vital for tourism as well as basic needs.

A research project conducted by Trine University students and faculty hopes to determine ways to improve the quality of Steuben County’s surface water.

The project is currently funded for one year through the Steuben County Community Foundation Spirit of Community Fund, with service member living allowances funded through AmeriCorps.

The St. Joe River Basin Commission, Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Angola MS4, Steuben County Health Department and Steuben County Lakes Council also are partnering on the project.

“The goals are to increase public awareness of the current status of our lakes and streams, identify areas of concern, and make recommendations as to how surface water quality in Steuben County can be improved,” said Sam Drerup, Ph.D., faculty advisor for the project.

 The Trine group is writing a grant to continue the project for the next three years.

‘An extremely important project’

Trine biology majors Jordan Derouin, from Angola, Indiana, and Lia Franzone, from Lancaster, New York, conducted research with Drerup throughout the summer and have continued through the fall.

Franzone said she heard about the project after asking about summer internships that revolved around environmentalism or conservation.

“I decided to become involved because it sounded like an extremely important project for this area, and I liked that so many different organizations were involved to make this all possible,” she said.

Deroiun hopes to pursue a career in environmental science and said the project was an opportunity to “help the neighborhood I grew up in.”

The group tests 10 stream sites within Steuben County each week, checking for E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus and total suspended solids.

“We collect several different water samples, take the wet width of each stream, measure depths and different points along this width, along with flow to determine discharge,” Franzone said. “We also use a sonde provided by the Steuben County Health Department that helps us determine several different parameters such as pH, conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, chlorophyll a and chloride.”

She said the group also tests for caffeine, which has never been measured in this area.

“It has allowed us to compile hundreds of data points that we will later analyze,” she said.

Derouin said they are able to run some of the tests at Trine and take others to outside labs.

Drerup said the presence of e. coli indicates contamination from warm-blooded animals. Elevated nitrogen can be caused by agricultural processes, phosphorus indicates pollution and caffeine is evidence of human involvement.

Franzone hopes the data will allow the researchers to understand what is happening to the streams over extended periods of time.

“A big part of this is informing the community about what we’re doing and why,” she said. “If people don’t understand our negative impacts on the environment and how this negatively impacts ourselves, then we will never accomplish anything.”

Drerup said the data will be distributed to agencies such as the Steuben County Health Department and the Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District, and eventually be made available on a public website.

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