What began as a classroom project by an Ohio Wesleyan University student has evolved into a study that will monitor the condition of Delaware Run for at least five years.

Among the stream's most visible sections in the city is a stone-lined waterway on the north side of the OWU campus green.

As a result, it was close at hand when senior Brianna Graber of Noblesville, Ind., decided in September 2018 to check the condition of the stream as a geography class project.

She said her initial focus was a chemical analysis of the water and aquatic insects in the stream to determine its water quality.

She checked the water's temperature, pH (acidity) and oxygen level and tested it for chemicals including orthophosphate, ammonia and nitrate.

There isn't much research on such a topic, she said, and she continued to pursue the idea of monitoring the stream after the course ended.

She began to network with different organizations in the summer of 2018, and her project's momentum accelerated after she got in touch with Delaware city officials.

Delaware Run is not a typical stream, said Caroline Cicerchi, the city's watershed and sustainability coordinator.

A stream that follows a natural course, she said, will have a number of curved sections that can slow down the water, creating a habitat where aquatic life can thrive, she said.

Delaware Run's path in the city isn't completely natural, she said.

Its section next to the OWU green is a straight trench about 22 feet wide.

No one is sure when the stone walls were installed along the stream, said Blake Jordan, city public utilities director.

The stream follows a similar trench next to the U.S. Post Office on South Liberty Street. It also runs beneath the pavement of West William Street.

This means, Cicerchi said, that Delaware Run flows with an unusual energy and velocity when its water is high, and the water level is sometimes close to the top of the trench next to OWU.

That water speed can affect the aquatic life and water quality not only in Delaware Run but also in the Olentangy River, into which the stream flows, she said.

Those factors led to the decision to install a fixture between the Delaware Run's walls at the OWU site that will capture organic debris -- leaves and lawn clippings -- and any trash tossed into the creek, Graber said.

The trapped material will provide an ongoing look into the stream's water quality, she said.

Called a storm drain net, the fixture weighs 13,000 pounds and is 4 feet tall, said OWU spokesman Cole Hatcher.

The drain net was installed Sept. 9 after what Cicerchi described as a great deal of planning.

The city worked through "local regulations for flood plain permits and the Army (Corps of Engineers) permit at the federal level," she said.

That planning included development of a new relationship between the city and OWU, Jordan said.

The plan calls for using the drain net to monitor the stream for at least five years, he said, with OWU student interns participating throughout the process.

Delaware and OWU also coordinated the project's funding -- which totals about $18,300 -- with money from the city public utilities department and an OWU Connection project grant written by and awarded to Graber, Hatcher said.

The storm drain net was designed and built by StormX Storm Water Systems of Cleveland, Ga., said Lee Yoakum, city communications manager. The net was installed by United Precast of Mount Vernon.

The net will be removed each winter, Cicerchi said, to prevent damage from freezing and thawing.

It will be put back in place after water levels subside in the spring, she said, and the city has vehicles and cranes that can perform those jobs.

Aside from possible replacement of the net itself, which is about 18 inches wide, the fixture is expected to be maintenance-free, she said.

Among other support for the project, Cicerchi said, will be testing kits funded by Del-Co Water Co. Inc. and a sign paid for by the nonprofit Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.

Graber said this won't be her last involvement with water quality.

She will graduate next year with a degree in zoology, and plans to work in aquatic life conservation.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews