STEAM Student Challenge Focuses on Water Quality Protection at Long Island Schools

(Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District)

The Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC) has launched a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) challenge for students to help address the region’s nitrogen pollution problems. The challenge is perfect for students working collaboratively in-person or remotely, enabling anyone to participate despite the pandemic.

The second-annual STEAM challenge— known as the Long Island Water Quality Challenge — empowers middle and high school students to design projects that can reduce nitrogen pollution on their school grounds. In Nassau and Suffolk counties, excess nitrogen from aging residential septic systems, fertilizer, storm water runoff, and other sources has deteriorated the quality of surface and groundwater.

The challenge was created by Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP), a multi-year effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island ground and surface waters. LINAP is overseen by LIRPC, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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, harmful algal blooms, 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 LINAP’s efforts to control nitrogen pollution loads impacting our waters,” said John Cameron, LIRPC Chair. “The Council recognizes the need for greater interaction between professionals engaged in STEAM pursuits and our schools to generate interest and excitement about project learning and STEAM careers.”

Schools will choose one of two categories to examine. The first is “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. The second is “Stormwater Treatment on School Grounds,” in which students will design projects to collect and/or treat runoff on their school grounds to help reduce pollutants.

A panel of experts will evaluate the teams on originality, innovation, quality of ideas, visual design, technical merit, digital and oral presentation, and team collaboration. There will be an awards ceremony for the top projects and teams. Any state accredited educational institution in Nassau and Suffolk counties serving students in grades 6-12 is eligible.

“The Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District is proud to be a part of the Long Island Water Quality Challenge review team. We are continually impressed by the ideas proposed by students throughout the challenge,” said David Ganim, District Manager of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District. “The reduction of nitrogen entering our waterways a key investment in Long Island’s future and utilizing STEAM based learning methods to develop proposals aimed at reducing nitrogen will work to provide lasting and positive impacts.”

To receive more information about the Long Island Water Quality Challenge and to submit a Letter of Interest go to, email [email protected] or call 516-571-7613. Letters of Interest are due by Feb. 1, 2021.

Submitted by the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District

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