By Robert Gardner
A SERVICE-LEARNING PROJECT AT OHIO
STATE UNIVERSITY BRINGS STUDENTS TO THE RIVER.
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.