A 12-year-old Nova Scotia student has become an environmental crusader, inspired by her science fair project.

Stella Bowles attends Bridgewater Elementary School, which is located not far from the LaHave River in Bridgewater, N.S. The LaHave winds its way from Annapolis County to the Atlantic Ocean. On the surface it’s beautiful, but what lies beneath is not as pristine.

Bowles got the idea for her science fair project while sitting around the dinner table with her family.

Their septic tank had to be replaced, which was expensive, and the family felt the financial pinch and frustration – they had to replace their system, but those with straight pipes were not under pressure to replace theirs.

“Straight pipes are 100 per cent illegal, there is no grandfather clause,” says Bowles.

When straight pipes are used in a sewage system, untreated wastewater is deposited into a natural waterway.

When Bowles learned of this, it led to many questions.

"What do you mean people flush their toilets into the river? How many houses do that? Is it safe to swim in the river? Do people know poop is going into the water? So, all of these questions kept coming,” says Bowles’s mother, Andrea Conrad.

Conrad, who is also a teacher, saw those questions as a learning opportunity and the idea for Bowles’s science fair project was conceived.

They first connected with the Bluenose Coastal Action Group in Lunenburg, who introduced the family to a retired doctor who was also concerned about the water quality along the LaHave River.

“It was, to my mind, an intolerable situation,” says Dr. David Maxwell, Bowles’s scientific advisor.

The concern is that people have gotten sick, and will continue to get sick if exposed.

“I want people to know it’s not safe to swim in the river. You shouldn't even touch the water according to my results,” says Bowles.

“They will say yeah we got stomach flu, we got ear aches, we got infections in our eyes,” says Maxwell.

Bowles was so concerned she convinced her parents to put up a warning sign.

“There's approximately 600 straight pipes along the river and 1,000 litres per home - 600,000 litres of raw sewage and dishwater going into the water per day,” says Bowels.

Her advocacy work has gained lots of attention. Not only did Bowles take gold at the science fair, she has been recognized for her work and even nominated to be considered as one of Canada's top 25 under 25.

“It’s pretty cool what a kid can do,” says Bowles.

Bowles’s message is being heard. Council will vote next Tuesday to bring in a voluntary program to replace straight pipes. The cost will be shared by all levels of government, and only a third of the cost will be the responsibility of the homeowner.

Bowles will be out of class to witness the vote, and see if lessons learned in the classroom will impact her community for generations to come.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Marie Adsett