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High school senior's water conservation message is made to last

Mandy Chu, winner of Oakland County storm drain cover design contestPeople in Oakland County will soon walk all over Mandy Chu’s conservation-focused artwork, and she couldn’t be happier. The graduating Troy Athens High School senior took first place out of 74 entries in the Preserve MI Waters: Stormwater Manhole Cover Art Contest for local high school and college students. Her drawing, “Mallards in Flight,” will be cast in 50 metal storm drain covers being installed this summer across the county to focus attention on water resources.

“I hope that when people see my artwork, they will be reminded of their own fond memories of Michigan’s waters and wildlife, while also noting the importance of acting responsibly to prevent damage to both,” she said.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash presented Chu her award, including a $1,000 scholarship provided by not-for-profit Pure Oakland Water, at an April meeting of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

“One of our missions for this contest is to help our communities understand that the water going into our storm drains travels directly to our freshwater resources, without treatment, making it vitally important that we keep our drains free of pollutants and debris,” Nash said.

The county also sponsors the annual Kids’ Clean Water Calendar Contest for fourth- and fifth-grade students. For the second year in a row, fifth-grader Aditya Yogesh, from Troy’s Barnard Elementary School, won the contest. Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), highlighted Yogesh and his artwork in a video announcing Michigan Great Lakes and Fresh Water Week, June 4-12.

Chu graduates in June and plans to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to pursue a biology, health, and society major. She enjoys drawing and ceramics, along with other favorite pastimes including reading, journaling, and spending time outdoors with friends. She answered a few questions for MI Environment:

What inspired your art for the contest? When I think about the wildlife I see most around Oakland County’s local ponds and lakes, ducks – specifically mallards – are the first creatures that come to mind. I wanted to highlight the simple yet graceful design of these animals that we commonly see but may not always take time to fully appreciate.

Why is the message of preserving Michigan waters important to you? Especially since Michigan contains some of the largest freshwater lakes in the country, it is vital to prevent pollution and protect our waters in the interest of saving energy, in addition to maintaining our ecosystems for future generations to enjoy and for wildlife to thrive. 

What do you find special about a favorite Michigan natural area or outdoor activity? I have memories of kayaking Michigan’s lakes with my family as a girl. I remember how awed I was by the expansive waters, bustling variety of plants, and the many types of fishes and ducks we encountered. There was something really special about being fully immersed in the natural beauty of those waters.

What would you most like people to learn or understand about Michigan’s water resources? Just that it is necessary to make an effort to learn about ways we can individually help preserve water, as well as collectively hold larger companies and our governments accountable for their parts in protecting Michigan’s water resources.

Caption: Mandy Chu, winner of Oakland County storm drain cover design contest.