Fisheries and Aquaculture students will be learning a lot more than how to raise fish at SUNY-Cobleskill this year. They’ll be creating a small stream needed to help clean wastewater flowing from the fish hatchery.
The college is building a new, $33 million Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, work that requires moving the fish hatchery and building a new waterway.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting public comment on the work requiring a change in the college’s wastewater permit governing outflow into the Cobleskill Creek.
Fisheries and Aquaculture professor John Foster said the college’s experiments with using constructed, naturalistic streams to treat fish hatchery effluent dates back 20 years.
“Basically, a natural stream has the ability to cleanse itself and we’re constructing an artificial stream to apply that kind of treatment to our hatchery effluent,” Foster said.
It’s a unique field of work, so unique that students and staff presented a report on their progress last year during a meeting of the World Aquaculture Society.
“As far as I know, we’re the only ones studying constructed naturalistic streams as a way of treating wastewater in any way,” Foster said.
Some projects make use of wetlands to clean effluent, but they work best during the growing season, he said.
“If you have algae growing in the streams, they’ll work year-round in cleaning the water. That’s the reason why we took this approach, it seems to be working out pretty well,” Foster said.
The algae does most of the work cleaning up the fish waste, he said.
Students studying aquaculture engineering have already plotted out the stream’s new course.
It will replace the current artificial stream that’s about 125 feet long. The new one will likely be double that size.
Though it leads to the Cobleskill Creek, fish seldom find their way into the artificial stream.
When they do, like after last summer’s tropical storms, they start eating important invertebrates and plants and “run amok,” Foster said.
“We have to encourage them to leave,” he said.
The new stream will be out of the Cobleskill Creek’s floodplain, so invading fish won’t likely be a problem anymore.
The stream will be an outflow of the college’s cold water fish hatchery, which produces brook, tiger and brown trout, and arctic char.
Lessons for students stretch beyond the mechanics and biology of fish.
The hatchery is financially self-sustaining through the sale of fish.
The college program provides trout for the Trout in the Classroom program in which grade-schoolers raise fish and release them in streams.
The program supplies trout for Cobleskill’s water supply reservoirs and for the New York Power Authority’s reservoirs as well.
“If you just raise fish and make a mistake and say ‘oops,’ that doesn’t mean much. But if it costs you something, that’s an important lesson,” Foster said.
Some students, he said, are charged with filling the Power Authority’s request for fish between 10 and 12 inches — they have to meet that goal to comply with the contract.
“It’s an important, real-life lesson for them,” Foster said.
The stream-building will entail digging the pathway, lining it with plastic, then filling it with cobblestones.
Foster said the work will begin either this summer or once the fall semester begins.
People interested in commenting on the permit can learn more on the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/enb/82936.html#reg4.