In 2009 the WSWA began monitoring various sites in Warm Springs Run (WSR) and three of its five tributaries. Four to five key sites are monitored on an annual basis; other sites are monitored every two to three years. In November, 2012, there was a gasoline spill into Yellow Run, a tributary to WSR. Three sites – a control site in the main stem upstream from the spill, a site in Yellow Run upstream from the spill, and site where Yellow Run empties into Warm Springs Run – will be monitored several times a year for several years.
Some summaries from previous years (before 2011) are available by going to the WV DEP Save Our Stream website. Once there select VAD (Volunteer Assessment Data). Next select Potomac Basin Direct Drain. Available data is organized alphabetically.
Long-term stream monitoring is an important way to track the health of a watershed. A single monitoring event is important only in that it establishes a baseline of data. Subsequent monitoring of the same site provides a way to see how land use changes, restorative actions, and applications of chemicals through the watershed impact our watershed.
Warm Springs Watershed Association (WSWA) stream monitors follow the Save Our Stream (SOS) protocol. SOS has been used across the country since 1969. The majority of our monitors have been trained by a representative from the WVSOS program. Three of our monitors have obtained scientific collecting permits; WV law requires that at least one person on any monitoring team is thus licensed.
SOS uses a biosurvey approach to stream monitoring, which includes an assessment of the stream’s physiochemical conditions as well as the collection and evaluation of macroinvertebrates (macros).
In terms of the physiochemical conditions, the WSWA stream monitoring team collects information on temperature, dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, nitrates, and turbidity.
Temperature is important because it governs the kinds of aquatic life that can live in a stream. Fish, insects, zooplankton, phytoplankton, and other aquatic species all have a preferred temperature range. If temperatures get too far above or below this preferred range, the number of individuals of the species decreases until finally there are none.
Temperature also is important because it influences water chemistry. The rate of chemical reactions generally increases at higher temperatures, which, in turn, affects biological activity. An important example of the effects of temperature on water chemistry is its impact on oxygen. Warm water holds less oxygen than cool water, so it may be “saturated” with oxygen but still not contain enough for survival of aquatic life. Some compounds are also more toxic to aquatic life at higher temperatures.
The chemical make-up of water is H2O (two parts of hydrogen to one part oxygen.) However, the “O” in water is not available for aquatic life to breathe. Dissolved oxygen is the oxygen available to sustain creatures living in a body of water. Some specimens, such as trout, require a high level of dissolved oxygen, while others, such as rat tail maggots, can survive with very little DO in the water.
pH is the measure of the acidity of water. A pH of 7 is considered to be neutral. Substances with pH less than 7 are acidic, while substances with pH greater than 7 are basic. The pH of most natural waters ranges between 6.5 and 8.5. The pH in the stream will affect what types of organisms can live in the stream. For example, many bacteria will thrive in water with a highly base pH, whereas trout and stone flies require water with a pH of 6-7.
Nitrates/nitrites occur in small amounts in all aquatic environments and are required to maintain the growth and metabolism of plants and animals. However, in excess amounts, these minerals can be quite harmful in that they can cause oxygen depletion. The major routes of entry of these substances into bodies of water are municipal and industrial wastewater, failing septic tanks, over-fertilization of surrounding lands, animal waste, and discharge from vehicle exhaust systems.
The particulate matter carried by a stream determines its turbidity, or the relative muddiness or cloudiness of the water. Particulates in a stream consist of algae, sediment particles from erosion, coarse particulate organic matter such as leaves and twigs, and fine particulate organic matter that have been broken down by stream biota.
The WSWA stream monitoring team also measures physical conditions such as the riparian buffer, bank stability, and embeddedness.
Riparian buffers are lands adjacent to a stream where vegetation is strongly influenced by the presence of water and are important for good water quality. Riparian zones help control water temperature and prevent sediment and pollutants from reaching a stream. The most effective riparian buffers include native plants, grasses and trees.
Unstable streambanks increase the amount of eroded material in a stream. Embeddedness indicates the degree to which rocks are covered or sunken into the silt, sand or mud of the stream bottom. Generally as rocks become embedded, the surface area available to aquatic life is decreased.
Benthic (bottom-dwelling) macroinvertebrates (small animals without a backbone) are relatively immobile as compared to other aquatic organisms. Thus, they provide a quick snapshot of the condition of their surrounding habitat and the state of the stream’s food web. The types of “macros” found are a good indication of water quality. Generally speaking, mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and riffle beetle larvae require a relatively pristine environment. Macroinvertebrates highly tolerant of pollution include midge larvae, snails, leeches and aquatic worms. Organisms such as scuds, clams, crayfish, cranefly larvae and aquatic sowbugs are somewhat tolerant, and are found in a wide variety of water conditions.
As interesting as benthic macroinvertebrates are to stream monitors, it must be kept in mind their greater value to the ecosystem. These creatures are an important part of the food chain, especially for fish. Many macros feed on algae and bacteria, which are on the lower end of the food chain. Some shred and eat leaves and other organic matter that enters the water. As benthos die, they decay, leaving behind nutrients that are re-used by aquatic plants and other animals in the food chain.