Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Montana Schools Dive Into World Water Monitoring Day

Water is essential, not only for humans, but for the health of the natural world around us, for our industries and our development, and, for the fisherman and floaters among us, for our recreation and relaxation. But water is also a tricky little molecule. We all live within the fluid motions of the water cycle. The Earth’s waters fall to the ground as rain or snow; sink down to become groundwater; flow downhill to become part of streams, lakes and rivers; or evaporate into the atmosphere to do it all over again. The water cycle means connection. Our local actions affect our waters, which could, in turn, cycle on to affect other waters. And, over the past century, we have affected the Earth’s water in unprecedented ways.

We are only now beginning to understand the consequences through education and events like World Water Monitoring Day (WWMD). WWMD was developed by an international consortium of government and private organizations to promote our understanding of our waters, and to encourage local communities to accept the responsibilities of stewardship. With the support of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, three southwest Montana high schools took part in the 2008 WWMD, collecting and assessing data on several local water bodies.

Tenth grade students from teacher Darcy Schindler’s science class at Drummond High School spent a day at the confluence of the Little Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers and at the Clark Fork at Drummond City Park. The students completed visual observations and evaluated vegetation and animal signs and collected and assessed stream insects along with data on the baseline chemical content of the river. Based on the data they collected, students concluded that the Clark Fork River is a healthy stream and getting better over time with the help of upstream restoration projects, a far cry from the Clark Fork of past decades that would run red with metals contamination.

Further upstream, students from Butte High School and Butte Central High School monitored conditions in the Clark Fork headwaters at the Mill-Willow Creek Bypass Channel, Silver Bow Creek at the Warm Springs Ponds discharge, Silver Bow Creek near Rocker, and Blacktail Creek at Thompson Park. Students did an excellent job of navigating the complex issues and science involved in these headwaters creeks; for the curious, complete data results are listed below.

Butte High students observed significant differences between the aquatic insect populations of Silver Bow Creek at the Warm Springs Ponds discharge and, right next door, populations of the closely linked Mill-Willow Creek bypass channel that circumvents the ponds. While the bypass showed a healthy, diverse insect community, including many specimens of sensitive stoneflies and mayflies, the discharge was dominated by scuds and caddis. Similarly, Butte Central students found vastly different insect populations at Blacktail Creek and Silver Bow Creek near Rocker. While tiny swimmer mayflies and stones were found in large numbers at Blacktail, downstream at Silver Bow more pollution-tolerant leeches and blood midges had taken over. The students’ chemistry data pointed to possible explanations for the differing bug communities, including nutrient issues on Silver Bow Creek related to Butte sewage discharge and the possible effects of the Warm Springs Ponds waste treatment facility on Silver Bow Creek’s insects. All student data was submitted to the WWMD database, which catalogues monitoring results from around the globe.

To quote WWMD organizers, “The need for water is fundamental for all living things. This need knows no boundaries, and it is critical that individuals become aware of the ways in which they can impact water quality.” Today, the Clark Fork Basin offers us seen and unseen reminders of our past impacts, and, in Montana, students are demonstrating an awareness of those impacts and a commitment to the health of our rivers. The future of Montana’s waters is in good hands.

-Justin Ringsak, CFWEP Communications Coordinator

For more on World Water Monitoring Day, visit the WWMD website at

No comments: