Stream Monitoring with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

Students in middle school and high school have to do a certain number of service hours to graduate in our area. My daughter Nora is in eighth grade and we have been doing many fun volunteering projects. Today we tried something new, which was stream monitoring with the group Oakbrook Stewards of Creation. These volunteers attend Oakbrook Church in Reston. The stream they monitor four times per year is called Sugarland Run.

The concept of stream monitoring is that if you sample the stream for macro-invertebrates, it can tell you abou the health of the stream. Some macro-invertebrates thrive only in very clean streams. Others are “neutral” and don’t tell you much about the health of the stream. And some thrive best in polluted streams. So it’s not about finding the most macro-invertebrates – it’s more about seeing trends in the population of certain species.

Here’s how it worked. We walked to Sugarland Run with two large rectangular nets and two waterproof tables. We measured the width and depth of the stream at the place where we were going to take the sample. The volunteers said the stream was very low today, maybe the lowest they have ever seen in the time they have been monitoring this spot. There has not been much rain this fall.

Two volunteers stretched out the net in the stream, and anchored the end that was upstream with a few rocks. The rest of us then disturbed the rocks upstream from the net by “doing the twist” i.e. walking and twisting our feet, or by reaching into the water and brushing the undersides of the rocks. We did this for 60 seconds, and then the volunteers picked up the net and carefully carried it up to the waterproof tables.

Karin and John gather another net of macroinvertebrates

Karin and John gather another net of macroinvertebrates

 

Next we used tweezers to pick up all the macro-invertebrates and put them into an ice cube tray filled with water from the stream. Most of the macro-invertebrates are very tiny, like less than an inch long, but some were juicy! We found two true fly larvae (Diptera) and they were the juiciest! I also liked the ones that looked like little lobsters – these were mostly damselfly larvae today.

True Fly or Diptera Larva found at Sugarland Run in Herndon, Virginia

True Fly or Diptera Larva found at Sugarland Run in Herndon, Virginia

Damsel Fly and Flat Worm found at Sugarland Run in Herndon, Virginia

Damsel Fly and Flat Worm found at Sugarland Run in Herndon, Virginia

 

One of the volunteers, Karin, is certified in the Virginia Save our Streams monitoring protocol. She was the best at identifying the creatures. We were hoping to find at least 200 individual creatures, but unfortunately, we found only about 100. Perhaps this is because the water is so low. Karin will send the data in to a centralized group after doing a bunch of calculations.

Counting macroinvertebrates at Sugarland Run with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

Counting macroinvertebrates at Sugarland Run with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

Counting macroinvertebrates at Sugarland Run with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

Counting macroinvertebrates at Sugarland Run with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

 

Nora and I really enjoyed learning about stream monitoring. When I worked at National Wildlife Federation, we talked about the importance of citizen science as a way of engaging with nature. It is eye-opening to see how all these critters are there in the water of our streams, and how counting them gives us a quantitative way to evaluate whether we are doing the right things for water quality in our county. The volunteers told us that there have been times when they came to count and there was an oily sheen on the water, which must have been shocking.

Thank you to Karin, John and Zenon for adjusting the time when you would do your monitoring to accommodate Nora’s hockey schedule and including us in this wonderful experience. We look forward to the next time in February!

2 thoughts on “Stream Monitoring with the Oakbrook Stewards of Creation

  1. Carl Brown on

    Looks like a neat project. I am curious as to whether you determined if the stream is healthy or not. I guess the analysis has to be done first.

    Good work.
    Dad/Grampy

  2. We truly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with Carla and Nora! They were a huge help to us in our Fall Stream Monitoring. The final score came in at: 4. This falls in the unacceptable ecological range. We caught a total of 109 insects (and 2 fish) in 3 nets. Typically we would go for a 4th net (in the hopes of gathering 200 insects) but the weather moved in with falling temp’s, high winds and possible rain.

    Being a Stream Monitor is all about being the eyes on the ground for our community, watershed area and our state’s department of environmental quality. Observation and catching insects can alert us to early warning signs of environmental problems.

    People always ask what they can do to help our watershed when they see a low score. Being that Winter is moving in fast this year I wondered what green alternatives there might be to removing snow and ice. A little searching produced this intriguing list: http://www.greenmoxie.com/natural-green-salt-alternatives-for-melting-ice-and-snow/

    I think we’ll give one of these a go this year!

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