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Published: 5/28/2013

Volunteers key in monitoring water quality

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

When we visit the doctor — the stethoscope, the blood pressure cuff, the stress tests — they’re all part of monitoring, or getting a detailed, accurate picture of our general health.

When the mechanic plugs your car into that snazzy rolling laptop and punches in a bunch of different codes as part of a systemic diagnostic procedure, it is monitoring, or looking for, any impending issues inside that mass of iron and wires.

Our environment needs the same kind of regular, in-depth scrutiny. It needs to be monitored. That way, we can see the canary getting a little loopy before the coal mine fills with deadly gases, and the bird drops from its perch.

For the rivers and streams that spindle throughout the area and on the map look like loose pieces of spaghetti tossed on a plate, monitoring is a critical element. They are the arteries that send life-giving water coursing through every habitat and environment, and if their content shows signs of trouble, the whole ecosystem is at risk.

Ohio has to keep a clinical eye on some 24 major river systems, which are fed by thousands of streams, which are supplied with water from millions of creeks, washes, brooks, runs, sloughs, branches, and ditches.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is charged with keeping its finger on the pulse of the quality of life for our waterways, through the Scenic Rivers Program. But in this era of shrinking budgets and expanding responsibilities, those entities have neither the funds nor the foot soldiers to adequately do the job.

So the call goes out for an all-volunteer corps outfitted in boots, old tennis shoes, and wide-brimmed hats. With a little formal training, a stream quality-monitoring posse is deputized and dispatched.

The state is seeking energetic individuals for that light duty. You will be on the front lines, but not facing enemy fire. The biggest concerns in this unit are sunburn, mosquitoes, and “does Ohio have any poisonous water snakes?” (No).

A series of workshops take place each year to train recruits in the stream-monitoring citizens army, and to refresh the veterans of this domestic duty on the techniques involved in their service.

In these workshops, which are held at Otsego Park and Farnsworth Park for the Maumee River regiment, and at Indian Mill and Wolf Creek parks for the Sandusky River crew, volunteers get a full orientation into the program. This includes learning how to use a seine and how to identify the aquatic macroinvertebrates (common name: bugs) that live in the rivers.

These aquatic macroinvertebrates serve as a reliable measuring stick on the general health profile of the river. The types that are present, their numbers, and the diversity of these tiny insects are all sound indicators of water quality.

Once a quick census is taken right there on the water, these organisms are returned to the river. The data collected in these studies are utilized to create a health report card for that segment of the waterway. If one section checks out as reasonably healthy, but a mile downstream there are issues, biologists can use that data to zero in on problem areas and look for the source of the trouble.

The information gathered by thousands of volunteer stream snoopers from around the state is compiled and published in an online annual report. Reports from previous years are available at ODNR Web site, www.watercraft. ohiodnr.gov/sqm.

The workshops take only a couple of hours and give the volunteers the necessary training in how to fill out and submit report forms, and a quick primer on Ohio’s scenic rivers. Prospective volunteers are urged to preregister for the workshops by contacting Christina Kuchle, the stream quality monitoring coordinator for northwest Ohio at 419 429-8306 or by emailing christina.kuchle @dnr.state.oh.us.

Michigan operates a similar stream monitoring effort through the MiCorps program. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Great Lakes Commission offer $50,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations and governmental units for volunteer stream monitoring programs.

Over the last eight years, the MiCorps program has awarded more than $391,000 in Clean Michigan Initiative funds to volunteer organizations that assist in water quality assessments and the protection and stewardship of Michigan’s lakes and rivers. More information on grant opportunities is available at the www.micorps.net Web site.

Contact Blade outdoors editor

Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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