PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo - JANUARY 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5
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ON CAMPUS: A River Runs Through It - Studies by Ohio State University students and others are trying to determine whether this dam near campus should be removed.

By Robert Gardner


Ecological engineering students collecting Old and grungy. That is what Ohio State University (OSU) students have dubbed the part of the Olentangy River that divides their campus. "No one goes down to the river, not even on a sunny day when you'd expect people to be there," says Timothy Lawrence, coordinator of CampUShed, a group of OSU faculty members, staff, and students that collaborates with outside professionals to address campus environmental issues. "The river is like a moat that divides the east and west sides of campus."

Testing has shown that the two-mile stretch of the river that runs through campus has the lowest water quality of the entire river system. The Ohio EPA recently fined the city of Columbus $500,000 for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act. Half the money was to be paid as a fine and the other to fund a supplemental environmental project to help clean the river. The supplemental project being considered involves the removal of a dam that blocks up the river just after the OSU campus.

Lawrence saw the Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study on the effects of removing the dam as an opportunity to involve OSU students in a process that could drastically change their campus. He and other faculty members formed The Olentangy Technology Transfer Education and Research Project (OTTER). An offshoot of CampUShed, OTTER allows students, through coursework, to participate in a big environmental restoration project. Lawrence says that there have been nine courses offered through OTTER. One watershed management course had students gauge the reaction of the Columbus community to the removal of the dam. Another two courses, in landscape architecture and community education, were offered simultaneously. The landscape architecture course required students to design river restoration projects with the dam both in place and removed. The community education students then presented these designs to OSU faculty members, Columbus citizens, and city officials.

Recent student work has focused on measuring the clay content of the sediment carried by the river and deposited behind the dam. Pollutants such as heavy metals and PCBs tend to more readily adsorb to clay particles than to sand or gravel. If there is polluted clay behind the dam and it is released after the dam is removed, the results could be disastrous to the mussel bed downstream. "The whole dam removal question," Lawrence says, "hinges on how much sediment will be released and how polluted it is." A senior engineering student is making a topographic map of the sediment and a geology class has used radar equipment to determine the clay content.

Lawrence says that OTTER has evolved from class to class along with the continuing feasibility study. His ultimate goal is for the river to become a "living, working laboratory" right in the middle of campus. And his efforts aren't solely to benefit engineering and science majors. "I'd like to clean it up and maybe inspire English majors to go down there and write, or philosophy majors to ponder."

Robert Gardner is Senior Editor of Prism magazine.


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