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Students see nature up close at power plant’s wetlands

September 26, 2018

CAYUGA, Ind. (AP) — Heaven Gruner and Brooklyn Gossett will never look at the Wabash River the same way again.

As eighth-graders at South Vermillion Middle School, they were among about 100 students from Vermillion County who explored the Cayuga power plant wetlands to learn about the value and functions of an area that looked like a random bunch of trees, tall grass and wildlife habitat.

“Everything is unique,” Gruner said. “I won’t look at the river the same.”

Gossett agreed. “I will now look at how dirty the water is,” she said. “And when I see trash, I will pick it up when I can so it doesn’t get into the river.”

Duke Energy hosted the annual field trip on its property, with activities running from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The students visited 11 stations set up along the river. Topics included pond ecology, bats, conservation, hydrology, engineering and hellbenders.

At the hellbenders station, Purdue University research scientist Jenny Sutherland explained how the large salamanders — also known as “snot otters” due to their slimy bodies, or hellbender salamanders — are now found only in the Blue River in southern Indiana.

Poor water quality destroyed habitats for the creatures, which like to live under large rocks in rivers and dine on worms and crayfish.

Sutherland said Purdue has about 300 hellbenders in a lab where they are studied and will be reintroduced to Indiana rivers.

Brendan Kearns of the Healthy Rivers Initiative of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources explained how pollutants entering the Wabash River in Ohio and Indiana affect the environment for thousands of miles through the Ohio and Mississippi rivers into the Gulf of Mexico.

Kearns showed a variety of bottles, balls and other debris — including a yellow rubber ducky from a recent event on the river — that he picks up as he boats along the river.

Debbie Nispel and Jan McDaniel of Duke Energy shared the function and values of wetlands as a place to store flood water and to break down pollutants.

The water filtration project with Eric Shideler and Debbie Barnett challenged the students to take classes of murky river water and filter them through cloths, pebbles and cotton balls to get cleaner water suitable to drink.

Shideler of Vermillion County and Barnett of Parke County both work for their local soil and water conservation districts to help landowners improve water quality, soil health, timber management and other environmental issues.

At the Emriver river process simulator, Leah Wood of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis showed how water pumped into the simulator travels through wetlands and waterways.

Duke Energy Foundation provided a $400,000 grant to IUPUI a few years ago to develop a mobile science lab to travel to events such as the wetlands learning day.

South Vermillion science teacher Morgan Dezsi said the wetlands exploration brought the students close to the river and wetlands that they might drive over or past, but never get to see up close.

“It’s important for them — as future lawmakers, future leaders — to see these things,” Dezsi said. “Not only the power plant, which might be seen as a negative, but as a positive in practical application to the environment. They learn that’s steam, water vapor, coming from the stacks and not smoke.”

Dezsi said the activities fit with the school science curriculum as is good for hands-on learning.

Duke Energy also employs its own scientists to manage the environment.

Biologists Dan Arndt and Bill Taylor handed out nets and instructed the students to dip into a marshy area to check out pond ecology.

“The organisms present give us an idea of water quality,” Arndt said.

Students Gruner and Gossett diligently hunted for insects, sharing their finds with classmates.

“It’s fun. I like it a lot,” Gruner said. “I’m learning a lot. This is a great trip.”

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Source: Tribune-Star

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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