Knee Deep In Knowledge

By Desiree Stanfield
Photos Courtesy Oakland County Parks

A newspaper article about a classroom water-quality monitoring program inspired honors biology teacher Connie Gannon to literally send her Waterford Mott High School students “up a creek” in Waterford, Mich.


Twice a year, Gannon’s students make the short trek on foot from school to Waterford Oaks County Park to participate in the Clinton River Watershed Council’s Stream Leaders Program.

The project is hosted by a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect, enhance, and celebrate the Clinton River, its watershed, and Lake St. Clair, according to the agency’s website.

At the park, which is part of a 6,700-acre parks system north of Detroit, students take samples from the Pontiac Creek, a part of the Clinton River Watershed. Another teacher assists Gannon and the students in monitoring four storm-water detention ponds located near the administration offices.

Investigation Provides Answers
The ponds act as filters before water runs into the Clinton River Watershed, which drains 760 square miles, including a large portion of Oakland County and sections of Lapeer, Macomb, and St. Clair counties. More than 1.4 million people live in 61 cities, villages, and townships in the watershed.

Donning waders and nets, students step into the water to retrieve samples on which they perform physical and chemical tests to check for various environmental indicators.

The section they monitor is a portion of the 70-square-mile Clinton River Main, which connects with a population of 243,000. The primary land use in the Clinton River Main is residential, commercial, and industrial.

“They check the water for macro invertebrates, chemical attributes, and physical properties. Data is recorded on an Excel spreadsheet, and they perform comparative analysis and draw conclusions about the tests results over time,” Gannon says.

Students test their water samples.

The park system provides the water-testing kits to students. In addition, Kathleen Dougherty, educational-resource specialist for the county parks, mentors the students and supports their field work along with education staff members from the Clinton River Watershed Council.

Thriving Wetland Ecosystem
The ponds were created in 2009 when the parks system restructured parking, increasing capacity by 50 spaces and implementing best-management practices to the aging infrastructure. The project was funded, in part, by a $190,000 Clean Michigan Initiative Grant.

“The detention areas filter and improve water quality in the surrounding natural areas,” says Mike Donnellon, chief of facilities, maintenance, and development.

“Now we’re filtering more than 75 percent of the site’s water runoff. Native vegetation, including Purple Cone Flower, Tufted Hair Grass, Joe-Pye Weed, and Switch Grass help with the breakdown of hydrocarbons that come from vehicles, such as petroleum, gas, and heavy metals.”

The environments around the ponds show a thriving wetland ecosystem with abundant plant and animal life, concluded students of Michael Lindemulder, who teaches Advanced Placement Environmental Science at Mott, and took on the monitoring duties. His students visit the ponds as part of their curriculum.

“We talk about water quality and how pollutants get into the system,” Lindemulder said. “We talk about different factors that could impact the results. It’s a good opportunity for students to see how science can fit into a career.”

Teachers hope some students will want to consider careers in science after this experience.

For a technology component, Gannon’s students created and presented a video about their efforts to share with more than 3,000 other students who also monitor water quality along the Clinton River.

The council’s student congress provides a venue for students to share their findings. Lindemulder’s students created an educational pamphlet about the project.

“The best part of this partnership with the parks system is that my students get outdoors in nature and do field work,” Gannon said.

“It’s exciting to see my students with their heads bent over magnifying glasses looking for invertebrates and finding there are creatures in the water, even though we don’t see them.”

Last year, the stream-monitoring program was a perfect complement to Gannon’s curriculum that had students studying all aspects of water, including a field trip to a water-treatment plant, discussions on the difference between municipal wells and city water, and an initiative to have students empty water bottles before recycling them at school.

“I hope all of these efforts help students make the connection that every little bit of water adds up to the whole of the resources that we all share on this planet,” Gannon said.

“Just by emptying their water bottles, they add water back into the water cycle and keep it out of landfills where it would be lost for a very long time.”

Desiree Stanfield is the Communications and Marketing Supervisor for the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission. Reach her at
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Community Support
In 2012, nearly 3,500 students from more than 20 schools monitored streams via the Stream Leaders Program. The program is funded by: GM, DTE Energy Foundation, REI Inc., Giffels Webster Engineers, Rochester Rotary, Sterling South, Oxford Bank, ABB Robotics, Womens National Farm and Garden, Chrysler Group LLC, and Garden Club of Michigan.

Mentor support is also vital to the program. More than 50 GM employees participate, as well as individuals from Chrysler Group LLC, Clinton River Canoe and Kayak, Giffels Webster Engineers, Oakland County Parks and Recreation, The City of Auburn Hills, and interns from the Clinton River Watershed Council.