Nova Scotia

Lunenburg harbour makes LaHave River 'look cleaner,' says citizen scientist

Stella Bowles tested the harbour for fecal bacteria after a tour operator complained about sludge, and her findings aren't pretty.

Stella Bowles tested water for fecal bacteria after a tour operator complained about sludge

Stella Bowles collected samples from Lunenburg harbour Friday evening. (Andrea Conrad)

The Dayspring, N.S., teenager whose school science project helped shine a light on pollution in the LaHave River says Lunenburg harbour is even dirtier.

"It makes the LaHave River look cleaner, which is pretty bad because the LaHave River is not clean," said Stella Bowles.

The 13-year-old said she was compelled to test the harbour water after tour operator Bill Flower recently spoke out about thick, brown sludge he said was coming from a sewage plant into the harbour and below a busy wharf.

The results of Bowles' tests were posted to her Facebook page Saturday evening.

These are the four places where Stella Bowles took samples in Lunenburg harbour. (Stella Bowles)

For her tests done on Friday, Bowles collected and capped water from four parts of Lunenburg harbour in sterilized bottles on a pole.

Bowles brought the bottles home and put the water through a filter funnel and then into an incubator with a card that tests enterococci levels.

The test usually takes a full 36 hours to complete, but when she and her mother Andrea checked on the card Saturday morning, it suggested there was a lot of fecal bacteria.

Stella Bowles tests water from Lunenburg harbour. (Andrea Conrad)

Blue dots will appear on the cards and each one represents a colony of fecal bacteria. If a card shows 70 dots, that means the water isn't safe for swimming, Bowles said. If the test shows 175 dots, Bowles said it means the water should not touch somebody's skin.

"It was only 12 hours they were in the incubator and the cards were completely blue. It's disgusting," said Bowles on Saturday.

Her results suggest that at a minimum, there are hundreds of colonies of fecal bacteria in the samples.

'It's just gross'

There is a no swimming sign near the harbour, but Bowles said she saw people paddle boarding on the water as she was collecting water.

"There's people in swimsuits out there with little kids and it's just gross," said Bowles.

Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey said Wednesday the town regularly tests the material that goes into the harbour from the sewage treatment plant, and all tests show it's safe.

On Sunday, Bailey said she had not reviewed Bowles' data.

She said the town has a "sophisticated and ever evolving sewage treatment plant" that treats the sewage from the town's residents and businesses.

Lunenburg doesn't test harbour water: Mayor

"We have an industrial harbour, very busy harbour from all maritime uses and the outfall from our treatment plant is unfortunately in very close proximity to the entrance of fisherman's wharf," said Bailey.

She said the town doesn't encourage people to swim in the harbour and the harbour water isn't tested.

"If this is an issue that is concerning of people, you know, water quality and swimming, then I think that's something that the people that have a responsibility to look into that are asked about," said Bailey.

"It's beyond us, it's not something we're responsible for. I'm not saying it's not a concern or shouldn't be a concern, I'm just saying that there's nothing that I know we're not doing that we should be doing to address it."

Dr. David Maxwell, a retired physician in Lunenburg County, has mentored Bowles and said her testing methods "are absolutely solid."

"The authorities basically don't do any testing, so it's being left up to the citizenry and to Stella Bowles to do the testing on what the bacteria levels in the waterways are," said Maxwell. 


Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.