On August 24th, Little River Watershed Association held a Stream School for Kids
to provide an array of water monitoring activities for our littlest friends of the river. This program was based on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) concepts and incorporated environmental, chemical and aquatic sciences and stream flow mathematics. The students learned how to measure the river flow, collect fish samples for a fish survey, observe macroinvertebrates, and run chemical tests on water samples.
Students learned that flow is a function of water volume and velocity. It changes with weather, human interactions and topography, and impacts water quality, organism habitat, sediment transport and dissolved oxygen levels. The students then surveyed fish, an activity led by LRWA board member and TVA biologist Jon Mollish. A good sampling of the 50+ species of fish found in the Little River were observed. Students then picked up river rocks to collect an array of macroinvertebrates including larvae of mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, dragonflies, water pennies, whirligig beetles and snails. Macroinvertebrates can help assess the quality of the river, since some are very sensitive to pollution. Based on the organisms collected, including the large number of the most sensitive groups of macroinvertebrates, the student concluded that the river is very clean.
The last activity was testing the chemical composition of the river. Students first checked the temperature (21 deg C /70 deg F) and discussed how it influences the amount of oxygen in the water, the rate of photosynthesis, and metabolic rates of organisms. They then measured turbidity, which is the relative clarity of water. An excess of suspended material in the water column (like sediment) causes the water to look murky, and high turbidity levels increase water temperatures, reduces the amount of light penetration and thus photosynthesis, clogs fish gills, and smothers fish and benthic macroinvertebrate habitats. Turbidity levels were low, which is excellent! Then, using a chemical indicator added to water, they found the pH of the water to be 8, indicating good water quality. Lastly, students measured phosphate and nitrate levels. Phosphate is a key element needed in plant and animal growth, and nitrogen is found in the cells of living things. These nutrients are essential, but in excess are harmful to our ecosystem. Both are major ingredients in fertilizers and runoff from farms and lawns can cause excess nutrients in the water. Phosphate is also found in human and animal waste, laundry waste, and cleaning and industrial processes. The students found low concentrations of both, indicating good water quality. Based on all assessments, we concluded that the water quality of this section of Little River is good!
Thank you to all of our participants! We were joined by about 25 students and adults. Our students were eager to learn and their adult counterparts were excellent participants as well!