On 16 January 2016 I took the Université de la Communauté Chrétienne de Caïman 1st year agronomy students in my ecology 201 class to Bassin Zim near Hinche to evaluate the water quality. We used Lamotte water chemistry kits purchased from Carolina Biological Supply and E. coli kits purchased from Bob Metcalf who developed a portable microbiologylab (PML) to use in areas that have no electricity for incubating bacteria cultures. The chemistry tests do not give a precise number, but are meant for use in environmental education to detect the difference between water quality extremes. The PML does reveal if there is E.coli in the water, which means there’s fecal contamination and possibly other bacteria and viruses spread through human feces.
We practiced all the methods in class, then at Bassin Zim used the kits to compare a stream coming from a cave about midway up the falls to the river below the falls. We also looked at land and water use, and quality of the riparian vegetation. The upstream site to the right of the falls is surrounded by large dense trees, perhaps reminiscent of what Haiti used to look like. The hillside to the left and next to the river below the falls looks to be deforested, with scrubby growth that has replaced the original forest. Our hypothesis was that the upstream site would have better water quality than the downstream site, since I assumed human activity appears to be less above the falls then at the base of the falls where people picnic, wash clothes, swim, and bring livestock.
Both sites had approximately the same chemistry, but we found E. coli in the upstream site. Perhaps this is from the bats that roost in the cave above the site? Unfortunately at the upstream site, a goat and chickens were drinking from the stream, and since I had visited in Nov. 2014 a tilapia pond had been installed between the stream and the falls! There was also charcoal production right next to the forest. That set off a lecture about needing to protect the remaining pristine places of Haiti. I can only hope that my students will look at rivers in a new way and notice how human activities impact them, and perhaps start to make changes to restore Haiti’s natural resources.
|Cave above the upstream sampling site.|
|The stream to the left, and unfortunate tilapia pond to the right.|
|Scrubby vegetation to the left, lush forest to the right.|
|Women washing clothes downstream of the falls.|