APES Students Clean Cottonwood Park, Test Water Quality

As+part+of+AP+Environmental+Science+teacher+Tony+Strohmeyer%27s+annual+trip+to+Cottonwood+Park%2C+students+not+only+cleaned+up+trash%2C+they+also+tested+the+quality+of+the+water+through+biological%2C+physical+and+even+chemical+experiments.+Talon+Photo+by+Maddie+Boyles+Photo+credit%3A+Maddie+Boyles

As part of AP Environmental Science teacher Tony Strohmeyer's annual trip to Cottonwood Park, students not only cleaned up trash, they also tested the quality of the water through biological, physical and even chemical experiments. Talon Photo by Maddie Boyles Photo credit: Maddie Boyles

Charlotte Owens

When Laura Lee tested the water quality at Cottonwood Park for an AP environmental science project, she realized that this assignment went beyond the classroom. The results showed that the environment was being directly impacted by the community and what they were putting into the water.

As part of AP Environmental Science teacher Tony Strohmeyer’s annual trip to Cottonwood Park, students not only cleaned up trash, they also tested the quality of the water through biological, physical and even chemical experiments.

While many students were shocked at the results of the tests, Strohmeyer said the water quality was actually better than it has been in the past.

“We need to take better care of our water because as of right now, we’re not going to be able to sustain it at the rate we’re going,” senior Rizwanul Haque said.

When senior Rebecca Hill examined the water, she noticed a pattern of debris.

“You don’t really see it because it’s underneath, but once you start digging, it’s all there and you can see every little bit of it,” Hill said.

Strohmeyer and his students have been doing this project for seven years, and their results have varied based on the current environmental factors.

“if we’ve had a time of drought where there’s no freshwater, or in this case here we had four inches of rain, so we had a lot of freshwater coming down, which is good because water’s bringing other stuff with it – fertilizer, dog manure, trash – we saw a large influx of a lot of those nutrients,” Strohmeyer said.

While there were overall positive results this time around, Strohmeyer still held our community accountable for our environmental impact.

“We’re checking our water for what our community is putting into it, and we need to realize that whatever we do in our yard actually does end up in our waterways.” Strohmeyer said.

“We’ve kind of done the same experiment, and every time we do it it’s totally different because it depends if we’ve had kind of a time of drought where there’s no freshwater, basically rejuvenating the water that’s in Cottonwood Park, or in this case here we had four inches of rain, so we had a lot of freshwater coming down, which is good because water’s bringing other stuff with it: fertilizer, dog manure, trash, and all that stuff, so we saw a large influx of a lot of those nutrients to it. Even though the water at Cottonwood Park looks pretty dirty, as a whole, we tested some of the bacteria, we tested the clarity of the water, and we tested the ammout of oxygen in there, and they all showed signs that were actually healthy water. We found fish in there, a certain type of fish, that only lives in clean water, and we found it there, too. So it looks dirty, there’s trash, but the quality is a natural source because of all the freshwater was actually pretty good.”

“So when you look at water quality, we also think about quantity: how much water is coming down in there. When we have all the cement everywhere instead of going into our ground, it’s going down into our Cottonwood park tributary. A couple years ago, they actually had to put cement walls on the side of it, the ponds, because there was so much water coming in it’s eroding it away. So, the quality is, mainly we look at fertilizers, but right now we’re not in a fertilizing time, but when Cottonwood Park’s coming around for the art festival, there’s a lot of stuff they’re putting on the ground to make the ground even look greener, like spray paint, or topical paints. So, we do see that and they also will dye Cottonwood Park kind of a blue hue to make it look cleaner. So, there are things that the city’s putting in there, but it’s also people, whatever’s in their front yard, like dog poop, trash, oil from parking lots and all that stuff is working its way down there. You can see the sheen on the water that’s there, too. So, everybody’s putting something in there somehow.”

-Mr. Strohmeyer

“I’m out here showing them all of the different types of experiments they can do: biological experiments, physical, water conditions, and even chemical conditions of the water. We’re looking at how those numbers overlap with each other, trying to give us an overall quality of our water body, and in this case, Cottonwood Park.”

“We do have a data sheet where students can enter all of their data, and how that data maybe has changed over the course of the day to check on consistency over time. And they’re actually going to take the idea for all these experiments, because they don’t have the chance to do all of them, but the idea is what experiments students can do, and eventually it’s going to relate to their test where they’re given a real world application scenario.”

“I think it’s important because it’s a real world application; there’s lots of job markets out there, and I even have a former student out in Tulsa, Oklahoma doing this exact same thing for a living. It gets them out doing fun stuff and not just a simulated lab. It’s the real thing. And it gives them the idea of possibilities that they may actually like having an office outside versus in a cubicle.”

“The one thing I didn’t bring was my boat, because we worry about people falling in, so that’s one change. I think over time, I’ve done this for about seven years, I think I’ve got it fine tuned to know what I need and how much I need and what works and doesn’t work, and our time frame available, too.”

“I want people to know that we’re checking our water for what our community is putting into it, and to realize that whatever they do in their yard actually does end up in our waterways and affects our native birds and our trees out here and eventually our own personal drinking water, too.”

-Mr. Strohmeyer

“We scooped things out of the lake, and I think it was just interesting to see all the trash that’s been washed ashore from people littering, and then there’s also a lot of leaves, but there’s not a whole lot of life in the water.”

“What surprised me was how much trash there was. You don’t really see it because it’s underneath, but once you start digging, it’s all there and you can see ever little bit of it.”

“I would want people to start putting their trash in the trash can and don’t just leave it about because it will end up in the water and all of the environment is suffering from it.”

“This experiment just made me more aware of what was going on, and where all of our trash will end up. And that’s not okay, especially because of the environment will be suffering from our actions.”

-Rebecca Hill

“So basically we were just trying to test the water quality using different kind of things. So this is the turbidity tube. This is my favorite one because you just fill it up all the way, it will spin, and you will try to make that pattern disappear in size. And then we also, we’re just fishing around trying to find insects. They are indicator species to tell the quality of the water.”

“It surprised me how shallow the water actually was. It thought it was a lot deeper. When I used to come here, I thought it was super deep. But coming here and testing the water, you can really tell that it’s not that deep at all.”

“Keep the water clean and know where your trash is going, because that really influences the quality of the water here.”

“I really got to see up close all of the trash that’s in there, and that’s really sad to see, because we don’t think about it a lot. We just throw away something not thinking about it, so now I’m definitely going to keep that in mind.”

-Kaitlin Vu

“So the whole point of this experiment was just to see how the water is, the quality, what’s really going on, and my favorite part was seeing the turbidity, see how murky it was, and the reason why it was murky, so it just proves how good the Richardson water quality is in the area.”

“Well, honestly, everything surprised me. The amount of oil, the amount of water just everything. It’s crazy. You see goose poop, animal feces, just everything gets mixed in the water. It makes it really dirty.”

“I want people to know the fact that we need to take better care of our water because as of right now, we’re not going to be able to sustain it at the rate we’re going.”

“Well, I’m in APES, so I kind of knew about this, but this just, reenforced, or just confirmed, how bad the situation was.”

-Rizwanul Haque