Students work with officials in study of Cane Creek

WCU students work with health department officials to conduct stream study of Cane Creek.

WCU students work with health department officials to conduct stream study of Cane Creek.

The water quality of Cane Creek met standards for surface and recreational use in a recent stream study carried out by Western Carolina University students working collaboratively with the Jackson County Health Department.

Four county environmental health specialists worked with students in Tracy Zontek’s water quality courses this fall to conduct the routine stream study. Together, they looked for instances of straight piping, talked with community members and took water samples. Students then measured such water qualities as pH, the amount of dissolved oxygen, turbidity, total hardness, and levels of phosphate, nitrate, iron, sulfate and fecal coliform.

“The students were enthusiastic and asked great questions,” said Jonathan Fouts, a registered environmental health specialist with Jackson County and a Western Carolina alumnus. “They have a genuine care for the environment, and they work well together.”

Zontek, associate professor of environmental health, initially contacted the Jackson County Health Department to explore the possibility of collaborating on a community water quality project. Tonya Howell, a registered environmental health specialist and WCU alumna, said the health department welcomed the opportunity to work together to increase students’ and residents’ awareness of a creek in the community and of the educational and informational role of the health department.

Students shared their results in a technical lab report and presentation that participating Cane Creek residents were invited to attend. Students also recommended in their presentation measures that could further enhance water quality, such as encouraging residents to pick up dog excrement, use fertilizer with care, have septic tanks pumped every three to five years, refrain from dumping oil or grease, and use erosion control measures.