By Falon French
HEC has been encouraging members to test water quality in their backyards for years. To help volunteers get started, the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation holds a bi-annual Wabash Sampling Blitz for all Lafayette area residents who want to learn more about water quality. As always, I yanked on my waders and headed out to check the water quality and help the new recruits collect samples.
On Thursday, we sampled fish populations. We all waded out with nets and a backpack electroshock kit, collected all the fish we could find and then counted and measured them. Good news for all fish enthusiasts: we found more than a dozen mottled sculpins and fantail darters – both species are good indicators of water quality. The biologist who was leading our group told me that he hasn’t seen fantail darters in a couple of years, so they are very rare in local waterways.
This was actually my first time fish sampling, so I was a little nervous at first. I accidentally stuck my hand in the water to grab a fish, but luckily the electrical devise was not on at the time! Our biology expert showed us how to identify the fish, how to measure them, and then posed for pictures. I doubt I’ll ever love mottled sculpins enough to kiss one, like he did, but it was still fun to learn about them.
Then we headed out again on Friday to run chemical tests on the quality of the water. We tested for all the basics: nitrates, nitrites, ph, etc. In all, my group tested 9 different sites. The good news is that we did not find any blooms of blue-green algae at 7 of the sites; the bad news is that we did find huge algae blooms at the other two.
This week was proof that ANYONE can help us monitor water quality. Most of the volunteers had never sampled before, but the test strips are easy to use and easy to read. Filtered samples will go to the Purdue labs for more detailed testing and other samples were set aside for E. coli testing.
We took a lot of pictures, we had a lot of fun, and in just a couple of hours we managed to compile baseline data that will be crucial to developing a targeted watershed plan.