Students at Gould Academy in Bethel, from front, Phil Kaften, Kate Saidy and Auburn Putz-Burton, work with the Trident underwater camera on Sebago Lake. They located inlet pipes for the Portland Water District. Submitted photo

BETHEL — A small group of Gould Academy students traveled to Sebago Lake recently to help the Portland Water District inspect the condition of its inlet pipes.

The lake is the source of drinking water for almost one-sixth of Maine’s population, according to the district.

One of the biggest challenges students faced was locating the pipe 26 meters below the surface.

“We had to find them by GPS, said third-year student Phil Kaften. “There are no visible buoys because they don’t want people to know exactly where the inlet intakes are. That was a lot of the challenge. We spent a lot of time driving around looking for it.”

The students eventually found the one of the two pipes, which was in excellent condition except for some algae built up on the screen. The original 1869 cast-iron pipe was also discovered during the search.

The students were using a Trident, a tool used for underwater exploring that Gould purchased last spring.

The device provided the highest quality images of the pipe the district has ever obtained, according to district officials. The Trident allowed students to get up-close footage of the pipe, which showed where possible repairs and cleaning were needed.

“The students were able to provide a service that is generally costly to perform and doesn’t happen that often,” Water Resource Specialist Nate Whalen of the water district said. “I was most impressed with how persistent the students were. When one strategy didn’t work as expected, they came up with new ideas to get the job done.”

Whalen accompanied the three students on the boat. Information Technology Tech Matt Murphy, who has overseen much of the students’ work, joined them at Sebago. Head of Buildings and Grounds Jerry Bernier has also overseen much of their work.

Kaften said improving the video quality is one of the major goals moving forward. He also said they are looking at getting more powerful lights for better visibility at lower depths.

“This was a test run, third-year student Auburn Putz-Burton said. “We were pretty new when it came to using the Trident.”

“I certainly would like to work with them in the future,” Whalen said.  “They have some interesting technology and I have some ideas on how their tools could be applied to lake science. It’s a good partnership.”

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