Lowe’s Grove teaches Durham how to take action on clean water

Emily Sutton, Haw River keeper, explains the size of the Haw River watershed. (Staff photo by Tessa Platek)

The middle school boy arrived from baseball practice to just in time to join the Lowe’s Grove pep band in opening the Creek Week event with their own rendition of “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz. This song, along with a cheery performance by the pep band of “People Make the World Go Round,” provided a joyful introduction to the middle school’s Clean Water for the Triangle – How to Take Action event held March 19th by the Northeast Creek Watch and League of Women Voters, which centered on providing clean, safe drinking water for the Durham area.

The pep band is one of many enriching activities offered to the students at Lowe’s Grove Magnet Middle School on S. Alston Ave. New opportunities for learning are offered to the students on a regular basis, partly in thanks to the school’s partnership with Fidelity Investments.

Kristen Thompson, a community relations manager at Fidelity Investments, explained how the 10-year partnership benefits Lowe’s Grove with School Transformation Days.

“We basically are here to serve whatever physical need that this school has,” Thompson said. “And so one year it was to clean up the creek that runs the perimeter of the school.”

Thompson further explained the focus on the creek, “As part of our science curriculum we were able to go out there and test the water that was in the creek, and what students found was that the pH of the water was totally off.”

Thompson explained that supplying students with such examples of real-life implementation of skills they learn in the classroom can be an invaluable experience.

“It was a really powerful opportunity for the kids to see how what we learn in the classroom lifts off the pages of a textbook, and it becomes real in everyday scenarios,” Thompson said.

However, the school’s work with Fidelity has done more for the students than provide them interesting activities. Sheena Boddie, Lowe’s Grove assistant principal, explained how the partnership with Fidelity does not just provide students with new opportunities, it also enriches their overall learning experience.

“There are real results: 20.3 points in raising our science scores in 3 ½ years,” Boddie said.

The students’ testing of the water in the creek did not just provide them with an opportunity to learn, but highlighted a real problem with the drinking water in the Durham area. The students decided to go further than simply testing the water.

“They called the city out, and what they found was that the businesses on the other side were dumping pollutants into this water, which by the way runs off into Jordan Lake and then becomes all of our drinking water,” Thompson said.

Emily Sutton, Haw River keeper and watch coordinator, further explained the Haw River Watershed which runs from Reidsville, North Carolina up until a little below Jordan Lake.

Sutton discussed how the Clean Water Act limited many river contaminants, but not enough.

“Those advisories are not regulatory; advisories are just a recommendation,” Sutton said.

Sutton also spoke about how newer contaminants, such as GenX, still remain completely unregulated.

“Because these contaminants are newer, the EPA has to have at least ten years of research before they can set a standard,” said Sutton. “In other countries you have precautionary principles, where you can’t discharge a contaminant until you prove that it’s safe. Here, you can discharge it until there’s proof that it’s harmful to human health.”

While environmental agencies are facing issues with new contaminants to regulate, they are simultaneously facing issues with budget cuts.

“Because our state has had so many budget cuts for departments like that, they can’t come out on a regular basis and check this,” Sutton said. “So these regulatory agencies really depend on the work we do as citizen scientists to flag any pollution concerns.”

The Haw River Assembly offers a variety of programs in which volunteers can help check water health in the same way that the students did. Some of these programs include the River Watch program, the Muddy Water Watch and river cleanup events.

Emily Sutton also suggested residents try to be mindful of what they put into their water. She advises against the use of Teflon, as it is linked to the presence of perfluorinated compounds, similar to GenX, in the water supply. Sutton also advises consumers to stay away from home products that contain perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), as they do not break down in water and can not be taken out of the drinking water.

Lastly, Sutton advised listeners to vote and put pressure on legislators to apply precautionary water principles and stricter regulations. The League of Women’s Voters helped organize the Creek Week event and are looking to also help organize voters to use their power as constituents to ensure better laws regarding the regulation of water are passed.

While this all may seem like a large undertaking, Assistant Principal Boddie reminded the audience that it is worth it.

“We are a living example of ‘if you clean the water, you’re going to see a difference.’”


For more information about the Haw River and volunteer opportunities visit http://hawriver.org/

For more information about Creek Week and other Durham environmental issues visit http://www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/

For more information about how to pressure legislators and vote for more environmentally-conscious candidates visit: http://www.lwvodc.org/

For more information about Lowe’s Grove Magnet Middle School visit http://lowesgrove.dpsnc.net/pages/Lowes_Grove_Middle


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Emily Sutton, Haw River keeper, explains the size of the Haw River watershed. (Staff photo by Tessa Platek)

(PICTURE STILL WAITING ON PHOTO CLEARANCE) The Lowe’s Grove Pep band opens the Clean Water for the Triangle Event.