Nov 3, 2019, 6:07 PM
PRESTON, Minnesota — We were a disparate group – men and women, young and old, trout anglers, water lovers, amateurs and professionals – but all joined in a love of water and a passion for improving it.
About 30 of us gathered in the National Trout Center Oct. 26 to learn more about streams, water quality and how to monitor them as part of the National Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams program. We were led by Dr. Jennifer Biederman, a biology instructor at Winona State University who has been trained in SOS; our target would be wadable freshwater streams.
Some of us are citizen stream monitors for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and wanted to up our game, do more than just see how clean a stream is and its water temperature. Others were teachers who wanted to do more with their students, and finally, some were indeed experts who would help us learn.
The day was spent in the classroom, part of the time, and on Camp Creek for the final part where we learned how to check a stream for its physical, chemical and biological characteristics. The biology – myriad bugs to be exact – would be most challenging.
After the class, we would take two tests online to be certified as monitors. Data we would get from tiny streams and smaller rivers would go into the federal Clean Water Exchange; the federal government must take our data into consideration when making resource decisions. In other words, our work would be more than an exercise.
She also said only 19 percent of American waterways are regularly assessed by professionals, so we, though not professionals, would be helping add to the data base in a more than cursory way.
Biederman began by laying out the problems facing our streams. She showed slides that would enable us to identify threats such as too-powerful flow, embedded streams, chemicals flowing in and runoff. She pointed out that the point sources, which are basically anything coming out of pipes and can be easily identified, is much easier to attack and correct than non-point sources such as runoff from city streets or lawns, and soil and chemicals from farmland.
One of the people at SOS training – her third time in fact – was Amy Cordry, a retired Winona middle- and high-school English teacher who lives south of Winona. She has gone to the Minnesota Legislature for Water Day and even testified because she wants lawmakers to know that our resources are being hit with more problems from more people.
She became interested in water because “I live adjacent to a stream (Cedar Valley Creek, a trout stream) and we have trails around our property. I ride my horses and walk down there a lot.” She’s been a stream monitor for five years because “I became curious what was going on in my stream.”
One thing was flooding. “I could smell sewage when walking down the stream,” Cordry said. “I was horrified but not surprised.”
In the class, she was deadly at identifying about 20 insects in sample bottles, missing but one, but not having time to get to all. It helped that two other people used a magnifying device to count tiny legs and how many tails a bug had. But then, she had studied the bugs a few times before. What she wanted to learn more about was how to do chemical assessments for nitrates and nitrites, dissolved oxygen, chloride and other chemicals.
On the stream, volunteers with waders crossed the stream to find its width then others took five measurements at equal intervals to get an average depth. Getting water clarity was easy with a transparency tube.
Bugs were the challenge. To get them, a special net, its bottom weighed down by rocks, was held in a riffle and then a volunteer upstream rubbed bugs and debris off rocks for 40 seconds and then kicked up the stream bottom for 20 seconds.
The number of bugs we found was astounding. Scuds (known to fishermen as “freshwater shrimp”) were common, leading more than one fly rod angler to make a mental note to tie or buy more scuds. Some were quite easy to identify because they were so big. But others were so tiny experts said a microscope was needed to tell what they were. Each species was put into a compartment in an ice cube tray.
When done, we headed back to our homes, knowing more about streams and challenges to them, but also armed with knowledge that might–no, it will–help them.