New STEM student challenge focuses on water quality protection at Long Island schools

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A new competition concentrating on science, technology, engineering and math has been launched to challenge middle school students to design projects to reduce nitrogen pollution on their school grounds.

On Long Island, excess nitrogen from aging residential septic systems, fertilizer and stormwater runoff, and other sources has led to deteriorated surface and groundwater quality.

The Long Island Water Quality Challenge was created by the Long Island Regional Planning Council, which along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Nassau and Suffolk counties, is implementing the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan. The plan is a multi-year effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island ground and surface waters.

Nitrogen is the leading cause of water quality deterioration in Long Island’s estuaries threatening ecosystem health as well as the region’s economic well-being. Excess nitrogen causes toxic algal blooms that lead to low oxygen conditions, fish kills, and degraded wetlands and marine habitats. Nitrogen also contaminates the groundwater which is the sole source of Long Island’s drinking water supply.

“Our goal is to connect students, teachers, and their communities with key issues that are actively being addressed by LINAP to control nitrogen pollution loads impacting our water,” said John Cameron, who chairs the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

The council serves as the island’s chief planner and a leading advocate for issues affecting the economic, environmental and social well-being of Long Island.

“The council recognizes the need for greater interaction between professionals engaged in STEM pursuits and our schools to generate interest and excitement about project learning and STEM careers,” he said.

As part of the STEM challenge, schools will choose one of two categories to examine: “Low Input Landscaping on School Grounds,” in which students will identify ways to reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides and overwatering by choosing different landscape designs and plant varieties; and “Stormwater Treatment on School Grounds,” in which students will design projects to collect and treat runoff on their school grounds to help reduce pollutants.

At the final competition, teams will be evaluated by a panel of experts on originality, quality of ideas, practicality, technical merit, digital and oral presentation, and team collaboration. There will be an awards ceremony where the top projects and teams will be honored.

Any state accredited educational institution in Nassau and Suffolk counties serving students in grades 6, 7 and 8 is eligible. Each school may submit up to two teams of any size; however, schools should identify a faculty lead for each team or one lead for both teams. Schools are encouraged to create collaborations with other schools in the district or across districts.

To receive more information about the Long Island Water Quality Challenge and to submit a Letter of Interest, go to https://lirpc.org/water-quality-challenge/, email info@lirpc.org or call 516-571-7613. Letters of Interest are due by April 5.

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