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What's in Your Water? Kent Stark Students, Faculty Embark on Project to Find Out

The group set off for Nimishillen Creek Watershed Tuesday morning to conduct water sampling in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency. What's more? Filmmakers will turn the project into an environmental documentary to educate the community.

Ever wondered what's in your water? 

students and faculty are getting to the bottom of it.

The group set off for Nimishillen Creek Watershed Tuesday morning to conduct water sampling in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency. What's more? Filmmakers will turn the project into an environmental documentary (Making the Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County) to educate the community.

They aimed to collect baseline sediment particles at 25 out of about 70 sites altogether Tuesday, send their findings to the EPA and follow up on problem areas in July. Also included in the project were several other Stark County universities and colleges.

"What we're doing is giving a complete picture of the water environment," said Beth Falls, a research scientist with the Ocean Research & Conservation Association. "We're not trying to blame anyone or tell anyone they're doing anything wrong. Clearly we're all polluters, and people do things without the knowledge of the impact … it's having on the water environment."

Falls said that at the conclusion of the water sampling project, the students, staff and researchers will have a documentary to show for it. And that, she said, will lead Stark County residents to make small lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on the county's water.

"You can improve it — whether it's what you're putting on your lawn, what you're washing your clothes with," Falls said. "The idea of all of us collaborating together is going to tell the whole picture. None of us can do that individually, but we all try, and that's why nothing ever happens."

The water sampling falls in line with monitoring done through the EPA, said Penny Bernstein, associate professor of biological sciences at Kent Stark. The project will provide the county with ongoing sampling that will assess the health of the water, and it also will fill in the gaps for local and federal agencies like the EPA, which she said are facing decreasing funding and manpower.

The project also connects businesses, K-12 schools, other major colleges and universities in Stark County and environmental agencies such as ORCA. It educates the community as well, Bernstein said. Much of the education comes through websites such as ourwaterwebs.org and .

The Environmental Media class came about through a grant relationship between the campus and Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, which funds projects related to the community, education and environment. The foundation also supports the water sampling project.

Derek Wholihan of Canton and found a passion for environmental education. No longer in the class, he's still participating in the campus' efforts to educate the community on the county's water issues.

"I think it's something that's really important," Wholihan said. "Everybody needs to know about the problems that are happening, and I think the best way for people to know is to have a strong media presence."

Wholihan said he's decided to make environmental documentaries his career.

"Ever since I took the Environmental Media Class, I have not stopped," he said.

Before setting off to the Nimishillen Creek Watershed Tuesday, students and staff got the chance to hear from Edith Widder, co-founder and CEO of ORCA, outside the Kent Stark Campus Center. Widder stressed the importance of water quality that morning.

She said she's seen alarming issues arise because of poor water quality. Those include dead zones (low-oxygen areas in the ocean), animals with tumors and dolphins with flesh-eating fungal infections.

"I feel like we're destroying the ocean before we even know what's in it," she said.

Widder said solving water quality problems lies in energizing community members to make lifestyle changes. Science teachers also should be helping children learn by doing, she said.

Intersted in keeping up with the project and water issues within Stark County? You can find more information on the Our Water Webs website.

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