Huntley participated in the Vermont State Science & Math Fair (VSSMF) held on March 31 at Norwich University, where she won numerous awards, including a $5,000 per year scholarship to Norwich University. She has also been accepted to participate in the Genius Olympiad, an international high school project fair on the environment, which will be held at the State University of New York Oswego campus from June 24-29.
For the past three years Huntley has participated in the Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) by gathering stream data from Beaver Brook. Her research led her to participate in the VSSMF as well, where she and her sister, Alexa, were awarded with gold and silver medals. This year, Huntley participated individually and based her study on Beaver Brook’s recovery following flooding from Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent dredging and rechanneling of the brook back to its original position.
Huntley focused her research on macroinvertebrate quantities, which are an important correlation to water pollution based on which macroinvertebrates are present. She said, “Some can live in higher-polluted water, which can indicate that it’s not so clean, and some macros can’t live in highly-polluted water.”
Huntley’s findings showed a surprising recovery of the stream’s health to nearly-normal levels in only two months. She said, “I expected them to recover somewhat, but I was surprised at how quickly they recovered.”
Before forming her hypothesis, Huntley researched what other scientists had discovered with stream recovery following flooding and dredging. She said, “There was some research that said that flooding and dredging is really bad, but others said that levels (macroinvertebrates) would come back up.”
As Huntley witnessed firsthand the devastating damage done to homes and businesses as a result of last year’s flooding, she decided to investigate for herself what some locals were questioning regarding whether some form of dredging would have minimized the overall economic loss. She said, “It was quite a controversial issue over Act 250, which restricts dredging.”
In her study, Huntley stated, “Research was needed to investigate the possibility of whether selective dredging and scheduled channel restoration might be an option to prevent disastrous flooding.”
Her findings contradict the conventional belief that dredging and river channeling are detrimental to waterways, and it flies in the face of Vermont’s Act 250, which has put a virtual stop to dredging, except by special permission granted by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), which usually discourages dredging.
Act 250, known as the Land Use and Development Act, was instituted in 1970 to control land use and the effect of human impact on the landscape. Prior to its implementation, indiscriminate dredging and channeling were common practices throughout the state, which studies have shown can cause serious harm to streams. However, Huntley said, “I think there also needs to be a balance. We have to find a balance and take care of the environment, but also allow businesses and people to survive.”
Huntley presented her study at the EPSCoR Spring symposium, where participant students, teachers, and undergraduates around the state, as well as from partner high schools in New York, Connecticut, and Puerto Rico convened to present their research. At the symposium Huntley discovered that others had based their research on post-Irene water quality as well. She said, “We didn’t know that any other groups were doing Hurricane Irene in their study. We were really interested, because ours wasn’t a rare occurrence.” Huntley said that other group’s studies also showed significant stream recovery following the storm.
Huntley said that she is also considering sending her study to state representatives recommending an amendment to Act 250. She stated in her study, “Dredging could be a solution to help prevent such momentous devastation in the surrounding towns after flooding without having a serious impact on the health of the stream.”
For this study, Huntley said, “I couldn’t have done the past two years without Christine Colella (her science teacher) and my sister Alexa, who helped with a lot of the research. Zach Richter and Jonathan Caplan helped with some of the water samples.”