“My generation has a lot of power, especially with social media now, we can with just one simple post create so much talk and hopefully fix our world.”

Interview with Stella Bowles

Stella Bowles is an example of how one person—even a young person—can make a very big difference. Stella’s grade 6 science project that tested the fecal bacteria present in the river near her home, eventually led to convincing three levels of government to pledge $15.7 million to help clean it up. In this exclusive Green Interview, Stella talks about her science project, and how it led to the attention, the awards, a book, and ultimately to a commitment to clean up the LaHave River in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. For her work, Stella was named one of Canada’s top 25 environmentalists under 25.

In this exclusive interview with Stella Bowles we discuss the findings of her grade 6 science project and how this led to a commitment by three levels of government to clean up the LaHave River in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

River Too Polluted to Swim In

When Stella Bowles was in Grade 6 she decided to find out why the beautiful river near her home wasn’t safe to swim in—something her mother had told her when she was growing up. With the help of Dr. David Maxwell, a retired medical doctor who lived nearby, who had already been testing the river water for years and getting nowhere, Stella decided to make it her grade 6 science fair project and the results were very bad. “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that this was what was happening in my river,” she told The Green Interview. Stella discovered that the beautiful river across the road from her home was actually an open cesspool. “At [a fecal bacteria count of] 70 you shouldn’t swim and at 170 the water shouldn’t even be in contact with your skin. In front of my house it was about 250!”

Stella found out that more than 600 households were flushing their sewage directly into Nova Scotia’s LaHave River and although that was against the law, nobody was doing anything about it. The authorities weren’t even telling people about the problem. So Stella, who was 11, tackled the problem herself. She erected a big sign beside the road: “This river is contaminated with fecal bacteria,” and she became a citizen scientist learning how to test the water for fecal bacteria. With the help of her mother she set up a Facebook page, which caught the attention of the media. The page went viral, the mayor got involved, then the provincial and federal governments. Eventually the three levels of government committed $15.7 million dollars to rid the river of sewage by helping residents replace the illegal “straight pipes.” Stella also began a project to show other kids how to tackle other polluted rivers. She also published a book and at 13 she was named one of Canada’s top 25 environmentalists under 25.

Taking Her Message to the Province

Stella is also taking her message province-wide and trying to get the illegality of straight pipes enforced. “When a house is sold with an illegal straight pipe it should be switched over to a septic tank,” she says.

She has also been travelling around Nova Scotia, meeting with other youth and teaching them how to test water samples. “I provide them with a year’s worth of testing. If the results are bad… we can get political like I did.”

Stella’s story also inspired and caught the attention of Anne Laurel Carter, an author, who has written a book in Stella’s voice titled: My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River. The book, published in 2018 will be required reading in Nova Scotia’s Grade 7 classrooms.

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