Nova Scotia

Girl's quest to clean up LaHave River nets $15.7M in funding

Three levels of government jointly are pledging more than $15 million to help clean up the LaHave River along Nova Scotia’s South Shore, thanks largely to the efforts of a determined young student.

'I look forward to adults making more positive steps for our environment,' says Stella Bowles, 13

Stella Bowles, 13, at a funding announcement in Dayspring, N.S., on Thursday. (CBC)

Three levels of government jointly pledged more than $15 million on Thursday to help clean up the LaHave River along Nova Scotia's South Shore, thanks largely to the efforts of a determined teenager.

"This is an amazing step in the right direction. It really is a gift to future generations along this beautiful river," Stella Bowles, 13, said at an event on the riverbank in Dayspring, N.S., to announce the agreement.

"I look forward to adults making more positive steps for our environment."

Bowles got involved in the issue in 2015 after her mother told her she couldn't go for a swim in the river, which flows past her house.

Harnessing social media

That led Bowles to undertake a science project to assess the water quality.

She began testing for fecal bacteria at different locations, found high levels of contamination and posted the results on Facebook. In the process, she garnered an online following and caught the attention of her local municipal council.

About 600 straight pipes along the river dump raw or partially treated sewage into the water. The hope is that removing the pipes and installing septic systems will significantly improve water quality.

Straight pipes are illegal in the province, under the Nova Scotia Environment Act.

Bowles posted this sign along the riverbank after discovering high levels of contamination. (Facebook)

The federal and provincial governments, and the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, are each promising to contribute $5,247,060 to the project, with federal money coming from Infrastructure Canada's New Building Canada Fund.

The municipality developed a plan to remove the straight pipes over the next six years. With government funding in place, that work is a step closer to getting underway.

Missing piece of the puzzle

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey, the local MLA, said at the event that Bowles's work was "the springboard" that allowed the project to move forward.

"There was a piece of the puzzle that was missing and it was the profile of the project and the ability to draw attention to the project — and that came from a young person and a science project at her school," Furey said.

Earlier this week in Montreal, the Canadian Wildlife Federation also honoured Bowles with a youth conservation award for her efforts to clean up the river.

"This was supposed to be a little science project, and it quickly got so much bigger," Bowles said in an awards brochure posted on the federation's website.

"I think that's partly because adults are kind of ashamed that it took a kid to tell them the river is not safe."