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Stella Bowles: Young Environmentalist

By GARIMA GOSWAMI, 28 Jan, 2020

    What started as a Grade 6 science project by the 11-year-old Bowles has evolved into a $15.7M cleanup plan funded by the local, provincial and federal government.

    Stella Bowles is a 15-year-old Canadian taking action against pollutants crippling LaHave River in Nova Scotia, Canada. What started as a Grade 6 science project by the 11-year-old Bowles has evolved into a $15.7M cleanup plan funded by the local, provincial and federal government.

    In 2015, Bowles ventured on conducting testing of LaHave after learning about how houses in the local community were dumping fecal matter directly into the river. The results confirmed the presence of fecal bacteria in the river which exceeded Health Canada guidelines. During her testing, Bowles discovered a shocking 600 straight pipes dumping sewage directly into LaHave. A straight pipe system disposes of raw or partially treated sewage directly into the water. Although the discharge of raw sewage through straight pipes is illegal in Nova Scotia, hundreds of houses continue to use them – something Bowles has been campaigning for the province to take action against.

    Bowles was first made aware of the issue when she insisted on going swimming in the river but was refused by her mother. Bowles’ mother, Andrea Conrad, explained the direct dumping of sewage in the river. As Bowles conducted testing, collected evidence and researched her findings, she narrated everything on a Facebook page which instantly catapulted a Grade 6 science project and Bowles’ concerns to various parts of the country, and most importantly the government.

    In 2017, three levels of governments pledged a $15.7M funding to replace straight pipes with septic systems that include septic tanks, pump chamber, sand filters and drain fields. “The municipality reported that over 600 homes along the LaHave River had illegal straight pipes. Since the implementation of the replacement program, about 140 of these illegal pipes have been replaced with approved septic systems,” says Bowles. The mission is to replace all these pipes by 2023. Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister, Mark Furey, described Bowles’ campaign as “the springboard” that allowed the project to move forward through various levels of the government.

    The young environmentalist describes the funding for LaHave cleanup as one of the most defining moments in her campaign so far. “[The most defining point was] when I got the call from my Member of Parliament, Bernadette Jordan, to tell me the funding came through.” The whole program hinged on the federal government joining the program with the municipality and provincial government, Bowles recalls and adds, “It took a while for the federal government’s announcement and I was getting worried it wouldn’t come through. Her phone call to me was a huge moment for me. I realized it really was going to happen. I was beyond excited. I just couldn’t believe it was really going to happen.”

    The 15-year-old is using her work, knowledge, and skillset to spread awareness amongst the young members of her community. She is working at Coastal Action, an environmental non-profit organization, where she trains youth in Nova Scotia to test their waterways. “I want more youth to see that science can be interesting, fun and lead to actual changes in our communities. Even kids have the power to create change. I am proof of that!”

    Bowles is currently in Grade 10, taking active measures through awareness and advocacy to eliminate straight pipes from rivers. “This is a big problem all over our province and beyond.” She has received several accolades and recognition for her work, including Weston Youth Innovation Award Prize, and has also narrated her journey through a book called My River, Cleaning Up the LaHave River. “Overall, I just hope people in my community and beyond really think about the environment more and make wise decisions based on what they will leave for their children,” Bowles says. For more information and to support Bowles’ campaign, visit her website and social media page.

    Credit: Stella Bowles, Béatrice Schuler-Mojon

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