Who speaks for the streams?

LoraxGood question, Mr. Lorax! A group of fourteen enthusiastic citizen volunteers joined AWW staffers, Sergio Ruiz –Córdova and Mona Dominguez, to participate in an Exploring Our Living Steams workshop for an answer. The two-day workshop was conducted at New Site, AL, organized and sponsored by Sabrina Wood, Alabama Clean Water Partnership Facilitator for the Tallapoosa Basin. Folks came from Alexander City, Jackson’s Gap, Dadeville, Eclectic, Wedowee, Montgomery, Rockford, Auburn and Daviston to learn about Alabama’s streams.

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Workshop participants used sidewalk chalk to outline the state of Alabama along with its major rivers and watersheds.

The type of water monitoring technique taught in this workshop is referred to as stream biomonitoring.  The group learned how benthic macroinvertebrates or aquatic critters ‘speak for the streams’ by acting as water quality monitors. Put simply, certain aquatic critters function as indicators of water pollution. Some types have a high tolerance for pollution; therefore if you only find that type of bug in your stream, your stream is not very healthy. However, there are others that cannot tolerate pollution; therefore if they are present you know that your water quality is good, and has been good for some time.

Stream biomonitoring is a good method for determining current and past impacts to water quality, and is used by scientists as well as state and federal agencies throughout the country. Former AWW Director, Bill Deutsch, was quoted in the Volunteer Monitor Newsletter saying, “If a pollution slug moves through on Monday and you monitor on Wednesday, the chemistry looks fine, but the bugs know better. They were there. They are mini-water quality meters, 24/7.”

The Enviroscape provides volunteers with a fun, hands-on way to teach kids about nonpoint source water pollution. It’s fun for adults too!
The Enviroscape provides volunteers with a fun, hands-on way to teach kids about nonpoint source water pollution. It’s fun for adults too!

Before venturing out to the stream to collect aquatic critters, participants learned about the different types of aquatic critters and what factors, particularly human impacts, affect their presence in a stream. They also learned to classify each critter into the appropriate group (pollution intolerant, moderately pollution-tolerant and pollution tolerant – see guide pictured at right) based on their tolerance for pollution.

AWW macroinvertebrate ID guide
AWW macroinvertebrate picture key

Then, it was time for all to get their feet wet. They waded into Timbergut Creek just outside of New Site, a beautiful Piedmont stream that flows into the Tallapoosa. Once in the stream, they put their newly-acquired kick-net skills to use to collect macroinvertebrates. They collected a rich array of critters from all three groups! Most importantly, they found several of the EPTs – Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, or mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, whose presence indicate good water quality. In fact, after tallying up a ‘stream quality cumulative index’ the stream scored in the Excellent range for water quality!

Sample of the critters found during the stream bioassessment by workshop participants – macroinvertebrates, crayfish, snail, and  some fish!
Sample of the critters found during the stream bioassessment by workshop participants – macroinvertebrates, crayfish, snail, and some fish!

At the completion of the workshop, the volunteers, now certified EOLS, are now equipped to ‘speak for the streams’ and to introduce others to the aquatic wonders of our state. AWW offers opportunities for certification in Stream Biomonitoring, as well as Water Chemistry Monitoring and Bacteriological Monitoring throughout the year. If you are interested, check our AWW website (www.alabmawaterwatch.org) for upcoming workshops. We hope to see you at the creek!

A good time was had by all!
A good time was had by all!

4 Replies to “Who speaks for the streams?”

  1. This is by far the best way to evaluate the quality of a stream. We should include a fish, Fundulus bifax, as another indicator of stream quality. Stream Biomonitoring! The true test of water quality that is present today and that has been present for many months in the past. This test is also an indicator of a good quality reparian zone. Trees and streams work together to insure quality! Lots of bugs in the stream. Go LORAX.

  2. I hope that this idea can be picked up by school groups in order to get young people interested and aware of the necessity for clean water across the planet – but starting at home.

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