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North Shore Channel

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A collaborative effort in sustainability at NU

Finding a solution to a problem rarely involves moving directly from point A to B. Instead, the problem itself changes and new obstacles present themselves along the way, leading to an unprecedented and often greater solution. A group of Northwestern University students working to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants in the North Shore Channel can attest to this phenomenon first-hand.

After learning from students on the Northwestern rowing team that falling into the contaminated water in the North Shore Channel was correlated with incidences of several students becoming ill, a group of students representing majors as varied as biomedical engineering, film, global health, materials science, and history decided to find a way to clean-up the channel and make it safe for those using it. After researching potential sources of pollutants and aeration techniques, the students believed that tackling the pollution at the source of the channel, near Wilmette Harbor, was the best method to resolve the issue. 

This strategy, while admirable, would prove to not be the best way to utilize the Northwestern students’ resources to their fullest potential- with access to top professors and an administration that would support innovative water projects on campus, why not take advantage of these opportunities? After learning about the vast scale of the problem and the multiple sources of pollutants with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the students decided that it would be more feasible to implement a smaller scale, more attainable solution on the Northwestern campus- a rain garden on the roof of the Northwestern University library.

While the project is small in scale, its ambitions are grand. The water collected in the rain garden will be deterred from the overburdened North Shore Channel, preventing damaging run-off from entering the channel. Furthermore, the addition of the rain garden will revive a dead public space and hopefully spark conversations about sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, the project involves a wide array of people working together towards a common goal to make the world a sustainable place, including Northwestern students, professors, and employees, PBS, the MWRD, the city of Evanston, After all, this project isn’t just about Northwestern- it’s about a community working together to make the North Shore Channel safer for everyone.