Engaging students in environmental stewardship: McIntyre River, Thunder Bay

Students plant trees along McIntyre River.

 Photo: EcoSuperior.

2014-2015 Funding: $52,475, including $15,000 provided by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund

Other Project Contributors: Confederation College, EcoSuperior Environmental Programs, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

A 1.3-kilometre stretch of the McIntyre River flowing through the campus of Thunder Bay’s Confederation College is serving as a unique hands-on “classroom” for college students and the community, under a project supported by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund.

But this is no ordinary college class -- the students’ work will be used to develop recommendations regarding future development on the campus property to help reduce environmental impacts on the river. 

In the past, runoff from urban and industrial development in Thunder Bay led to reductions in water quality, loss of fish habitat and impacts on fish populations in the Area of Concern. Most of the impacts were concentrated along the downtown waterfront and in several small rivers flowing into Lake Superior. The McIntyre River has been particularly affected by stormwater runoff from college buildings, paved parking lots and other hard surfaces on the campus.

Coordinated by EcoSuperior Environmental Programs, a non-profit environmental stewardship organization based in Thunder Bay, the project engaged students to identify opportunities to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff and improve wildlife habitat along the river’s corridor through the campus. Students were introduced to stream and water quality assessment techniques, such as recognizing and identifying deteriorating stormwater outfalls, severe bank erosion, presence of trash and debris, and utility and stream crossings. They also learned how to measure dissolved oxygen levels in the water, and how to determine salinity levels and measure water clarity. As well, the student researchers mapped high-risk sites that can affect stormwater runoff on campus - such as river channels, stormwater drain locations and stream crossings. Finally, they identified areas where riverbanks are unsuitable for habitat and proposed remediation sites.

About 30 shrubs and 20 trees were planted along the riverbanks to help alleviate bank erosion and act as a buffer, where the immediate impacts from runoff were of greatest concern.

During the field research phase in the summer of 2014, 30 Stewardship Youth Rangers, part of a high school youth employment program sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, visited the college to participate in environmental workshops and gain experience assisting with data collection. Their results were included along with those collected by the college students. 

EcoSuperior used the collected information and data to develop an Assessment and Options report. The report identifies options for habitat restoration and in-stream improvements by reducing and mitigating the impact of stormwater runoff. Throughout the project, EcoSuperior provided regular updates to Confederation College’s Sustainability Committee to ensure that the project’s work was meeting the needs of the College. The report’s recommendations are being implemented by the College over a three-year period, beginning in 2015-2016.

In addition, the Assessment and Options report will serve as a resource on stormwater management and habitat restoration that can be used by other landowners and organizations located along small river systems.

For more information on the Thunder Bay Area of Concern, please visit: InfoSuperior.

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