-by Shruti Syal
So we figured we’d give our junior batch a little taste of the work we’ve been doing, while testing various aspects of our education program. TERI University has a fresh batch of students coming in every year into the Environmental Studies and Resource Management masters, and one of their first semester courses, Environmental Monitoring laboratory, has an independent project option that accounts for 30% of the grade. Since water quality analysis constitutes over 60% of that course, there is a lot of overlap between what ACWUS does, and how students from this particular course can deliver those outcomes. It is the kind of symbiotic model we wish to replicate with universities like JNU, DU, and IIT-Delhi as well, but given our experience with TERI’s curriculum and familiarity with the lab facilities and faculty, this was a good place to start.
After a couple of emails and a campus meeting, a batch of eight was finalized for the pilot run at the recently profiled Purana Qila site. A 3-hour lecture was held on Thursday, 18th October, which involved walking the class through the context in which ACWUS is intended to serve a purpose, the manner in which the project has developed, and exactly where the water quality analyses fits into the scheme of things for project execution. The need for emphasis on continued monitoring after wetland construction went down easily with most.
A week later, the eight of them trekked up to the Purana Qila site with Salomi and myself, armed with PET bottles and plastic bags. Given the paucity of gloves, there was a designated sample collector, who probably had the toughest time collecting samples from over a bridge hovering a good 10-12 feet over the surface of the drain, despite his snazzy pendulum swinging moves.
As usual, we attracted a crowd of interested locals, and it was great to see how easily most of this group of students conversed with them about work and life. Our main imperative was to ensure that students work through the interactions, physical work, distribution of labour, and problem-solving amongst themselves. Unless we needed to mediate, we didn’t want to. It’s easy to employ such a strategy with people barely 1-3 years younger than yourself because you are still very much in tune with the expectations you have when starting out on projects yourself. Our impression of the group was pretty good too. Helpful, mild, easygoing yet interested in participating in every aspect of the program, and in need of just a little guidance, and a nudge here and there. I suspect that’s what we would find at other places where we will test the education pilot.
Our designated sampler was also luckily an avid trekker, and very adventurous in his sample collection strategies to ensure that the samples would come from as central a point in the drain as possible to control for the overdose of solids that happens when sampling from the edges of drains.
The lab work happened at a more frenetic pace. Eight plus two people breezed through the work ups for BOD, COD, and soil organic matter, leaving TSS and TDS for another day. Salomi and I zipped between groups, giving them the test outline refined and re-refined and re-re-refined by our work at the 3 previous sites, overseeing their prep, optimizing their use of the glassware and solutions, watching their titration end-points, and coaxing them to speed up their cleanups. It then dawned on us how much the experience at 3 sites has helped improve our speed at executing these tests, and giving us the confidence to know the steps to skip; for instance knowing that until the refluxed solutions for COD and organic matter get to the point where they’re green, you may as well let in a jet of the Ferrous Ammonium Sulphate titrant that probably saves a couple of minutes per sample. We had a hiccup with the dissolved oxygen samples that had been prepped, and there was a temporary panic on the paucity of dilution water for re-doing all the BOD dilutions we had put up, until they tested a few bottles of starch and realized the indicator was all off. Things got back on track. It was mentioned repeatedly how most students didn’t get past a slightly more long or challenging test by themselves, from start to finish, until that day. It was also nice watching the economist figure out all by himself, that a particular test wouldn’t need a blank after a few alterations in the original version. Small mercies.
The ACWUS module for this batch end this coming week with an hour-long session collecting the numbers for the various tests, crunching them to get results, interpreting them especially in context of the visual appearance of the water and other site observations, and comparing them to the numbers obtained from the Noida Toll Pond, Chirag Delhi, and Anna Nagar/IP Estate sites sampled over this past year from November, May, July, and October respectively.
While the detailed course review questionnaires are with the students until next month, by which time they complete the course and the presentation of the work from their independent study, one of the keenly offered compliments was with regard to the multi-tiered advantages rendered by such a program in terms of hands-on, application-based field experience. Salomi and I have been pretty practical about the fact that we’re not generating a cadre of water quality monitoring professionals. Rather, ACWUS is to just give one unique and sorely needed experience to several batches of students in the relevant fields of study, and gather their little contributions to generate the whole that is the monitoring of wetlands-for-wastewater treatment at about 3 dozen sites all over the city.