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Algonquin College students tackle issue at Muskrat Lake Watershed

By Celina Ip

Célina Ip / Daily Observer: Algonquin College Environmental Technician students (left to right) Aarika Charlebois, Lauren Lacombe, Briana Moss-Pate and Emily Krutzelmann presented their 'Controlled Tile Drain' research project which serves as the continuation of the Muskrat Lake Water Quality Monitoring Project to implement best management practices on farm properties located within the Muskrat Watershed.

Célina Ip / Daily Observer: Algonquin College Environmental Technician students (left to right) Aarika Charlebois, Lauren Lacombe, Briana Moss-Pate and Emily Krutzelmann presented their 'Controlled Tile Drain' research project which serves as the continuation of the Muskrat Lake Water Quality Monitoring Project to implement best management practices on farm properties located within the Muskrat Watershed.

Algonquin College students have celebrated their research success in tackling a complex environmental issue affecting the Muskrat Lake Watershed.

 

On Dec. 6, Algonquin College’s Waterfront Campus in Pembroke held an Applied Research Day to give students in the Environmental Technician (E-Tech) Program the opportunity to showcase their work.

The E-Tech Program, which was founded five years ago, is a compressed diploma that can be completed in 18 months whereas other similar programs can take 60 months. It includes an optional paid co-operative education experience within the environmental field. Graduates of the program find work across Canada in both the public and private sector, supporting environmental monitoring and strategy development and implementation.

Over the past two years, students in the E-Tech Program had been researching best practices in managing farms and lakefront properties to improve the water quality of the Muskrat Lake Watershed, near the village of Cobden.

The teams of young researchers conducted their studies by working with farmers, property owners, local contractors and a team of experts to implement strategies to address the issues that have plagued the watershed for many years.

These initiatives have included the installation of five controlled tile drain structures, a technologically advanced weather monitoring station, the planting of many streamside trees and shrubs, 3-D mapping, water and soil analysis and testing, and the development of a research plan for 2017.

“The idea of these projects is because these students are going to be working in the community and working outdoors, these types of projects give them that experiential learning on really unique projects and allows them to work with real community partners,” said Julie Sylvestre, project manager with the Office of Applied Research and Innovation at Algonquin College. “These projects all relate to basically trying to reduce the excess amount of blue-green-algae nutrients that are going into the Muskrat Lake Watershed.”

The projects had been funded by the Muskrat Watershed Council and Algonquin College’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation, with the financial support of the Great Lakes Guardian Program and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

During the Applied Research Day, the students’ work was highlighted and they had the chance to share their findings with classmates, professors and other faculty.

One group had investigated the soil and topography of two agricultural properties in the Admaston/Bromley township in Renfrew County. Te overall goal of the project was to survey the landscape to create a 3-D topographical map using a Geographical Information System (GIS), collect soil samples for nutrient analysis and measure soil moisture using a handheld project to create a map of varying soil characteristics.

“We wanted to find a program that monitors the soil moisture effectively because if you can monitor them effectively and help farms use best management practices and ensure that they’re implemented in an effective way within Renfrew County,” said Martyna Tomczynski.

Another group had put their efforts towards better understanding how crop fields with controlled tile drainage are affecting and are affected by nutrient loss. Their project was aimed at uncovering and implementing best management practices on farm properties located within the Muskrat Watershed.

“The reason that we took on this project was to see how surface water flows naturally on the land,” said Aarika Charlebois. “Our partner has a controlled tile frame which was installed this summer and they wanted to also see how the water is being held back. Through our research, we learned that being a farmer takes a lot of planning. Our partner in particular has done integrated a lot of best management practices to make sure that he is environmentally conscious and responsible and we have displayed that in our nutrient management plan.”

According to Sylvestre, through the students’ dedicated research and collaborative work, they were able to find viable solutions to tackle the issues facing the watershed.

“Working within a multidisciplinary team has exposed the students to real world challenges and allowed them to help find solutions for the Muskrat Lake Watershed. It has been a very powerful learning experience involving multiple partners,” said Sylvestre.

In a press release, E-Tech program coordinator Sarah Hall echoed Sylvestre’s sentiments.

“This has been such a positive and productive year for our soon-to-be graduates, who were able to meet all of their goals and make strong connections with our agricultural community. Their work has produced on-the-ground solutions that can help reduce excess nutrient inputs into the Muskrat Lake, and that is worth celebrating,” exclaimed Hall.

Now, as the students will be preparing for graduation, Sylvestre shared how the hands-on learning program has provided the students with invaluable on-the-job training opportunities to prepare them for life after college.

“We find that with these type of projects they really help students find work after they're done school because they're actually working with real community partners through the process. Some students come into college but they don't have a lot of work experience, so this type of program allows them to test that all out before they graduate and build those connections and skills,” said Sylvestre. “We've had students in both programs move on to interesting jobs and they'd come back and say that their experience in those community projects made a big difference.”

CIp@postmedia.com