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‘Kick and sweep’ survey asks how clean are County streams

Kassandra Robinson doing a “kick and sweep”

By Kassandra Robinson, PECI Grade 12
For those of you who didn’t get to attend the Prince Edward Stewardship Council display at the Picton Fair, “Which Stream is Cleaner?” I would like to share with you what you missed. This booth invited students to participate in a “kick and sweep,” rapid assessment survey for invertebrates from local creeks. The survey compares benthic organisms (a.k.a the little bugs that live on stream bottoms) to find out the condition/health of the streams.  It works on the premise that different bugs have different tolerance levels to pollution (organic enrichment). The survey generates a score for each site (Hilsenhoff Score) and the lower the score, the better the stream’s condition.

We thought it was important to share the results from the volunteers.  Two samples were collected from each of Marsh, Waring’s, and Bloomfield Creeks. Basically, sampling consisted of placing a net in the stream and kicking the substrate upstream of it, so that the invertebrates “drifted” into the net.

Janet Curran and daughter Katie review benthic organisms under a microscope during the Picton Fair.

At the fair, volunteer pickers collected anything that moved from the trays, and identified the critters they found with the assistance of a microscope and Les Stanfield of the MNR.
All identified bugs were recorded and used to generate the site scores.  To get the results, we multiplied the percent of each group by its tolerance value and added them up. The lowest score is the healthiest stream!
For example, a site with a lot of intolerant (good) bugs (mayflies and stoneflies) gets a low score, whereas one with low numbers of intolerant bugs and lots of tolerant bugs (midges and sow bugs) would receive a high score.
The upstream site of Marsh Creek (near the cemetery) had a score of 6.3, meaning it is in fairly poor condition, whereas the downstream site (below the sewage treatment plant and at the end of Delhi Park) had a slightly worse score of 7.0 and was rated as poor.  This suggests that the stream shows signs of pollution impacts before it enters the park and that it “seems to be worse off” downstream of the park/sewage treatment plant.
In both areas of Waring’s Creek (5.6 and 5.4) and Bloomfield Creek (5.7 and 5.3) the scores were “fair”, indicating that there is some evidence of nutrient enrichment, but not enough to jeopardize the health of the streams.  These scores are comparable to a warning light going off, suggesting that we need to make sure water quality doesn’t get worse.  It’s a good thing that the Waring Creek’s Improvement Association is keeping an eye on this stream and perhaps they might consider conducting these surveys routinely.   Perhaps Bloomfield Creek needs a similar group?
These surveys are intended to identify where there may be a problem. The interpretation gathered from the data was that the creeks do not appear to be in the greatest shape. This may (most likely) be due to human activity such as pollution. However, this is a rapid assessment survey and these results suggest that more rigorous sampling should be done.
You may be asking why are these surveys so important? Well, this is the beginning, how all research starts. If there is no information, you cannot prioritize where you perform restoration efforts and protection. This also allows you to look for trends in the data collected, which may be better or worse. Lastly, it engages, empowers, and educates everyone to become active and assist in restoration projects.

The enthusiasm of the students did not go unnoticed. PECI teacher Janet Curran suggested this technique would be a good add-on for the biology curriculum, in   which students are already learning about biodiversity and human impacts on aquatic ecosystems.
I am currently a co-operative education student at Glenora Fisheries and am helping to write the material to make this happen, along with Les Stanfield and Janet Curran.
We hope to automate on the web the data summary procedures and make it so that the data is stored and shared by students all over the province.  The combined results will help us better understand the state of our streams, and add new relevance to classroom ecological sampling activities.
This offers an exciting hands-on project for the students to help engage them in stream ecology and monitoring.  I hope that one outcome of getting others involved is that they will understand the connection between what they do at home or on the land and the health of the streams.
What can you do to help? Do not throw your garbage in areas where you shouldn’t and pick up garbage everywhere –  but especially near streams or rivers. Using less of any product always means more for the environment.
Remember, it all ends up in our water systems. That is why the hands-on biology unit I am helping to create for the high school curriculum is one step closer to a better environment.
If you would like to help the Prince Edward Stewardship Council, contact Andy Margetson at andy.margetson@ontario.ca or 613-478-5400.

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