Goessel science class takes on water-testing project

by Cynthia Martens

Residents of Goessel and surrounding areas may be taking a new look at the water they drink, bathe in or use for their livestock as a result of a local water-quality-analysis project, which began Monday.

Seven Goessel junior and senior high school students and their science teacher will be testing the water in USD 411, thanks to a special provision of the charter school program established by the state board of education last spring.

“We’re going to do some water testing-about a half a dozen different tests throughout our entire school district,” said Don Dailey, environmental-science teacher at Goessel High School.

“We’re going to go out and start collecting samples from various sections of this district on a weekly basis, perform the tests and return the results to the district patron.”

The patron is defined as any homeowner or land owner in the USD 411 district who wants to participate in the project.

The students involved are Rendi Cress, Amanda Woelk, Zane Unrau, Andrea Rains, Mark Voth, Kim Voth and Mandy Hardey.

They have been working to prepare for the project by doing practice sampling and testing.

One week before the field work started, Cress and Woelk were in the lab checking how high the nitrates were in Woelk’s water.

“It’s out of our well,” Woelk said. “Before we test, we test our own water.”

Residents are being told about the project through posters displayed throughout Goessel. A Web site, www.usd411.org/ghs/wqap/, is listed at the bottom of each poster.

Community members are encouraged to go to the Web site developed by Dailey and the students in his environmental-science class. A click on the site brings up the project proposal, goals, equipment, testing procedures and a data collection form.

“What we’re trying to do, especially with the Free Press, is to try to let people know that we’re coming,” Dailey said.

“On this first (trip), we’ll show up in their yard, tell them what we are, and what we’re doing. Hopefully the information is getting out to them.”

The USD 411 district has been divided up into 13 sections which will be visited over the remainder of the school year.

The water to be gathered will come from wells, rural water or surface water sources, and 300-milliliter samples will be taken.

“We’re going to go out Monday evenings, collect those samples in one section of the district, bring those samples back here, start analyzing them Tuesday through Thursday, and wrap everything up on Friday,” Dailey said.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to present that material back to them the following week and get the information into a database.”

Participation by the patrons is on a volunteer basis, and a $1 donation will be requested to cover the cost of gas and postage to mail back the information.

“If people took samples to a professional lab, it would cost between $20 to $40 for a full range of tests like we’re offering,” Dailey said.

“So it’s a good deal.”

Dailey plans to canvas designated districts each Monday by driving the students to the homes, dropping them off with a questionnaire and testing materials, and returning back in 10 to 15 minutes to pick them up.

“Goessel city proper is on city water, so we won’t take very many samples out of the city proper,” Dailey said.

“But the rest are 90 percent rural.”

Three or four different water towers serve the rural water district, Dailey said.

“And so a lot of these people have rural water, but they also have wells that they’ll want tested.”

Most of the water to be tested is going to be coming out of the tap, Dailey said.

The students will also ask each owner to complete a prepared questionnaire.

In addition to specific information listing the patron’s name, address, phone number and section number, the short questionnaire will ask the following:

n Age of residents;

n Well depth;

n Year well was dug or drilled;

n Is there a water softener in the home?

n Was water collected before or after the softener?

n Any previous water testing and if so, what tests performed?

Space will be provided for patrons to add additional comments to the questionnaire.

The remainder of the week, during class time, students will analyze the data collected on Monday.

“We’ll be testing basic things like nitrate levels, sulfates, chlorides, hardness, iron and total dissolved solids,” Dailey said.

Testing equipment, purchased with the charter grant money, comes from HACH, which is an international water-quality-testing company. It manufactures and distributes analytical instruments and reagents used to test the quality of water.

“Our intention was to also test for coliform bacteria and E coli bacteria, but at this point, we don’t have the funds to do those tests, so we won’t start those yet,” Dailey said.

But his students will have plenty of information to analyze and return to the homeowners to help them be more aware of the water on their property.

Knowing the nitrate levels should prove helpful, especially with those families with infants, Dailey said.

“You’re concern is more with the younger children because of the tie up of oxygen, especially in infants,” he said.

“It’s also for the offspring of livestock.”

Information about the casing of a well and how it has affected the water should also prove helpful.

“If it’s a metal casing, we know the well is pre-1970, and we can get an indication of the deterioration, like metal content,” Dailey said.

“The well might be leaching metals from the casing itself.”

One other test result will be the pH content. The pH is the acid or base content of the water.

“If the water sample is more acidic than it should be, if they have metal pipes, it’s going to start leaching some of that metal into the water system, especially copper,” Dailey said.

“We look at the pH as an indication of possible metal content.”

Dailey said the results will be returned to the homeowner, and the information will be kept confidential.

“We want to make sure that people know that the information is going to stay within this district,” he said.

“I don’t have the right to hand that information to anybody else.”

In addition to analyzing the data for the homeowner, Dailey and his assistants will take a broader look at the information accumulated in their database.

“Hopefully, we’ll look at, for example, nitrate and sulfate test results across the district and make generalizations,” he said.

“When we put it into the software program, we can overlay test results with topography or soil types,” Dailey said.

“We can check the results against a lot of different things. That’s the students job-disseminating the data and entering it into the database.”

Accuracy, accountability and responsibility are key factors to the success of the project, Dailey said.

“They’re being graded on their work as far as performing it and keeping up with the system.”

He said over the next 12 to 15 weeks, he anticipates gathering and analyzing at least 400 to 500 different samples and plans to enlist the help of 60 to 70 junior high students as well as the seven high school students in the project.

“I want these guys to be able to teach the junior high students how to do some of these tests,” Dailey said.

And what does Dailey hope his environmental-science students will gain from the experience of gathering, analyzing and teaching?

“The whole purpose is research-based science and obviously giving the students a work-place application that they can go from this experience and easily pick up a summer internship at a lab or go into this kind of field in college or right into the work force,” Dailey said.

“That’s the whole plan of the charter school is to make it an initiative that does something different that kids haven’t done and is educationally worth while.”

The students echoed their teachers enthusiasm as they worked in the lab practicing for the first day of field work.

“It’s a new learning experience, and it gives the school a way to outreach to the community with some of the problems that some of the community might have with their water,” Cress said.

“It also gives us a future career outlook.”

And what would the students be doing on Monday night if they weren’t collecting water samples?

Unrau said he would probably be at home doing homework or watching television.

“Now, I’m going to be taking water samples,” he said.

“It’s a good experience, and we can interact with the community more. And we get to know our classmates better, definitely, spending more time with them.”

The opportunity these seven students have is unique in the nation, Dailey said.

“As far as I know, what we’re proposing through the charter school with our water testing, I’m only aware of one other high school in the nation that’s doing something like this at the level we have proposed.”

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