Feature Story

Net Benefits

September 9, 2019 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan senior Brianna Graber oversaw a project to install a storm drain net in the Delaware Run. The net will capture waste from the water, and Graber will monitor the impact on the stream's water quality. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Ohio Wesleyan Student, City of Delaware Install Storm Drain Net to Monitor, Improve Local Waterway

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University senior Brianna Graber has spent the past year planning and conducting water-quality research on the Delaware Run, which flows through the university campus and into the Olentangy River.

Her work included collaborating with the City of Delaware to install a 4-foot-high, 18.5-foot-wide, concrete-weighted storm drain net directly into the waterway. Put in place by crane Sept. 9, the 13,000-pound trapezoidal net is now capturing trash and green debris (organic waste such as lawn clippings and leaves). The net is one of the first installed in Ohio and the nation.

Graber, a zoology major and Spanish minor from Noblesville, Indiana, said she chose the project for her OWU Geography 360 class, “environmental geography,” because she wanted “to do something big.”

“This project spoke to me because I have a passion for aquatic life and marine life along with conservation,” Graber said, “and I thought it would be a great way to rope my passions into sustainability and environmental science.”

“My research involves observing the chemistry of a waterway by chemical analyses and aquatic insect sampling in order to check the water quality of the Delaware Run as a whole,” Graber said, who previously tested the water for orthophosphate, ammonia, nitrate, dissolved oxygen, free and total chlorine, pH (acidity), and temperature upstream and downstream of where the net was installed.

Much of Graber’s work was conducted during a summer internship with Delaware’s Public Utilities Department, where she was mentored by Watershed and Sustainability Coordinator Caroline Cicerchi, and, concurrently, as part of Ohio Wesleyan’s 10-week Summer Science Research Program, where she was mentored by Shala Hankinson, associate professor of zoology.

“This project feels like it’s been a long time coming,” Cicerchi said. “From a planning perspective, we worked through several versions of the net structure, worked through some permitting requirements, and had to roll with design customizations that weren’t anticipated. Brianna has been an excellent coordinator for the project and has worked really hard to make this research a reality.”

Workers install the 13,000-pound storm drain net into the Delaware Run on the Ohio Wesleyan campus. The water-quality project is supported by an OWU Connection grant written and awarded to senior Brianna Graber and by the City of Delaware. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

Approximately every two weeks, Delaware’s Public Utilities Department will collect the net and then separate the recyclables, trash, and organic material to help learn more about the health of the Delaware Run. Graber will examine the contents and conduct additional water sampling well.

“There is little research on this topic,” Graber said, “so the long-term results of this study will provide a new baseline data set that could be widely applied.”

Though she is graduating in May, Graber anticipates the net will remain in place for up to five years, with future OWU students expected to help to monitor the waterway.

The cost of the concrete-net structure was approximately $18,300, with the project being funded by the city’s Public Utilities Department and by Ohio Wesleyan through an OWU Connection project grant written by and awarded to Graber.

The project also was supported by the Delaware County Soil and Water District, which surveyed the installation site at no cost to determine measurements for the net, and by financial and other contributions from DelCo Water Co., Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW), and the American Kayaking Association. The storm drain net was designed and built by Cleveland, Georgia-based StormX Storm Water Systems.

John Krygier, professor of the Geography 360 class where Graber’s project originated, said he is excited to see Ohio Wesleyan students make such a positive difference in the environmental health of the community.

“Projects like this are important, said Krygier, co-director of OWU’s Environment and Sustainability Program, “because they are innovative solutions to environmental problems and can only happen through collaboration between campus, community, the private sector, and non-profit organizations. It’s terrific that an undergraduate student can be at the center of such a significant effort.”

A sign is expected to be erected at the net site soon to explain the significance of the project, which also could improve the health of the larger Olentangy River.

Learn more about the effort to keep Delaware’s water clean at http://www.delawareohio.net/about-the-public-utilities-department/olentangy-river-watershed/, more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Summer Science Research Program at www.owu.edu/ssrp, and more about OWU’s Environment and Sustainability Program at www.owu.edu/environment . Read the “Sustainability & Environment @ OWU” blog at https://sustainability.owu.edu.