Stark News Details
Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline - Part 4Posted Jan. 7, 2011
About Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline
Mariana Silva is a senior magazine journalism major at Kent State University at Stark. These articles were featured on the CoolCleveland.com blog.
Part 4: Rallying to the Cause
Almost lost and invisible among the foliage now bright green, one can see small bodies of water quietly carrying life in their liquid hands. The air smells fresh. The ground, still in shades of brown and black, gently cracks and sinks as a walker steps on the wet leaves. His steps are nearly inaudible, but he is there, again. After all, it is Tuesday and despite the water drops falling from the sky and what would be to others an inconvenience of having to step on mud, he is there.
Unmistakable, wearing a cap and carrying his orange backpack Robert Hamilton appears from the woods. He is walking the paths of Quail Hollow State Park near Hartville, where he checks on the water that runs through it.
Along with a couple of students from Kent State University at Stark, Hamilton has made Quail Hollow a site for his research on the Nimishillen Creek watershed.
He makes sure water will be there for generations to come. He is behind the story that everybody misses: What would happen to Quail Hollow – or really, a big part of the region – if human and business activities continue affecting the watershed?
Between his laboratory at Kent State Stark, where he teaches, and research sites at Quail Hollow, Hamilton examines the human impact on the surficial water, checks for water quality and for organisms that should or shouldn’t be there, and sees if the place is fulfilling its ecosystem function. He looks at the structural and functional components of the park and the physicality of the water: pH, nutrients, its chemistry.
Hamilton’s words have been echoing in my mind ever since he told me he believed people would not care about the issues affecting water until the media announced we were in a crisis.
That was the first time I talked to him. I was taking environmental reporting as one of my journalism classes at Kent State Stark and my professor, Mitch McKenney, had scheduled the visit so Anamaria Evans and I, the only other student in the class, would learn why Hamilton’s research belonged in a documentary.
He explained how the Nimishillen Creek was the main source of water for most Stark County residents, whether people knew it or not. And the implications were much wider, as Northeast Ohio for years has relied on and touted its abundant fresh water – so it’s key to our physical health as well as our economic health.
After that semester was over, I continued with an independent study in mass communication. My job would be to write stories about water issues as part of the Hoover Initiative for Environmental Media, a new project at Kent State Stark. For the past five months, I have had the opportunity to closely watch people, who just like Hamilton, do everything for a future in which clean water will be as available as it is now.
One of the times I met with Hamilton in his office we spoke about how people have always taken water for granted. He said this is particularly easy to do in Ohio, where water is plentiful and it is difficult to think water comes from somewhere else other than faucets. We have safe, clean and drinkable water available everywhere. At least for now.
After examining the area in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency announced in December 2009 that the waters of the Nimishillen Creek watershed were “severely impaired.”
At Quail Hollow, Hamilton studies three out of the five aquatic habitats that make the place their home. He looks at vernal pools, emerging wetlands and streams and examines the differences and similarities among the invertebrates living in these habitats. He has found that organisms that normally would be different because they live in different habitats, are very similar. Depending on the organism, this indicates the environment is good or bad, clean or polluted.
Hamilton is the only researcher examining the Nimishillen Creek watershed inside Quail Hollow, and his work is similar to the work of many others concerned with the health of the watershed in the county. Nearly invisible is the flow of water under our feet, key to our survival.
Although not many people acknowledge them, hundreds of Northeast Ohio students, professors, teachers and community members are involved with water projects, and they are interested in addressing these challenges.
For the past five months in the project, I had the opportunity to meet people who, like Hamilton, work behind the scenes and use the power they have in hands, whatever that skill is, to fight for a future in which water will be as available as it is now.
I saw schools and universities in Ohio who have been working toward that. I was able to experience firsthand the passion of high school and college students at the Great Lakes Science Center about a month ago, when over 400 students, teachers and professors came together to present their projects at the Igniting Streams of Learning Science Water Summit 2010.
They were self-motivated students, who, without the physical presence of their instructors, gathered around tables and explained to anyone interested what their projects were all about. They were the students of professors and teachers who motivated them to think about how science, technology, engineering and math could serve environmental purposes.
I met people who, through their jobs and class work in school or college, do simply what their consciences ask them to do. These are men and women, boys and girls, students and teachers, alone or with their friends, with their families and partners, who think of the present as the first step to the future.
They use their own fields of interest to tell people about the importance of taking care of their local water sources, and they educate their community even when few know what a watershed is. The future is always closer than we think, and these students, teachers, professors, professionals and community members are working for one in which water won’t be taken for granted.
For more about watershed groups in your city go the Ohio Watershed Network at www.ohiowatersheds.osu.edu.