Curiosity and follow-through on the issue of straight pipes and sewage have earned 16-year-old high school student Stella Bowles, from the Town of Bridgewater, the honour of being the youngest person ever to receive the Order of Nova Scotia.
Earlier in November, Stella Bowles became the third youth ever in the province to receive the honour, joining hockey player Sidney Crosby. The recognition came from Bowles’s science project at age 11, which eventually convinced three levels of government to commit more than $15 million to help clean up sewage draining into the LaHave River on the South Shore.
“When she was just 11 years old, Bowles wanted to go swimming in the LaHave River, but her mother explained that the water was contaminated,” states a description from the Order of Nova Scotia. “Many homes still have illegal straight pipes that allow sewage from the toilet to flush directly into the river. Stella was appalled and wondered if she could change this somehow.”
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Bowles, who has her own website, made headlines for testing the river’s bacteria levels, which she found to exceed guidelines for fecal contamination. She says she took on the science challenge with the help of local retired medical doctor David Maxwell.
Bowles said she was shocked at the time to learn about straight pipes and endeavoured to effect change on the issue. By 2018, her spotlight on the problem convinced three levels of government to make the region straight pipe-free by 2023.
“If you have a cause and you want to fight for it – fight for it. Don’t hesitate because you don’t know what’s going to happen if you don’t try,” Bowles told media at the time.
About 600 straight pipes along the LaHave River dump raw or partially treated sewage into the water. The nearby Town of Lunenburg estimates that roughly 600,000 litres of untreated sewage flows into the estuary every single day.
Local councils and residents hope that installing septic systems and removing the straight pipes, which are technically not allowed under the Nova Scotia Environment Act, will significantly improve the LaHave River’s water quality. About 200 pipes have been replaced so far.
Bowles is also the youth leader for Coastal Action’s Nova Action program, and has become one of the province’s youngest and most vocal environmental speakers.