Exploring The Last Green Valley: Volunteers with noble purpose help monitor fishable streams
What do three types of mayfly, four types of stonefly and five types of caddisfly have in common? Each of these micro-invertebrates begins their life in water. Each of these species is also sensitive to water pollution, and therefore serve as an indicator of the water quality of our region’s streams and smaller rivers. They are the proverbial canary in a coal mine.
What else do they have in common? These invertebrates are part of the annual fall hunt for our region’s healthiest streams. Each year hundreds of volunteers spread out throughout the state as part of a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Citizen Science project called Riffle Bioassessment by Volunteers Program. RBV is a simple method of collecting bugs living along stream bottoms. Some bugs, like the one’s listed above, need cold, oxygen-rich water to survive (so do an angler’s favorite fish – trout). Other species of bugs and fish can survive in more impaired water.
Here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, Jean Pillo, TLGV water quality monitoring volunteer coordinator, has led the RBV program since 2006. Her teams of volunteers have gathered important data in determining water quality in our region. Pillo is one of 13 RBV program leaders with the responsibility of monitoring streams across the state. Each program leader puts in many hours in recruiting and training volunteers, organizing their programs and coordinating with DEEP.
I spoke with Pillo about her RBV monitoring program and her volunteers. She is a biologist with a passion and dedication to water quality monitoring work in our region.
“RBV monitoring allows adults to play in the stream again but with a noble purpose,” she said. “Collecting the bugs is like going on a treasure hunt. The treasure is to document high-quality water for aquatic life in our small streams. The reward is being able to put a star on an interactive online map when we find four or more of the pollution-sensitive types.”
“The bugs we collect are large enough to see without a microscope. They are fun to watch. As part of the program, volunteers are taught what they look like and how they behave in the underwater environment; how they get their food, which are grazers and which are predators,” Pillo continued.
I attended one of her training sessions and found it to be a great experience. There are several items used in collecting stream bugs and rubber boots are up there as very important – preferably the type that come above the knees. The bugs are gathered using a fine nylon mesh net called a “kick” net. The net has a long handle and the mesh is stretched over a rectangular shaped wire rim of about 20 inches in length.
I was the volunteer assigned to wade into the water with the kick net. Pillo showed me how to hold it open on the stream bed facing upstream so the water flows into and through the net. Another volunteer then waded into the stream and reaches into the water just upstream of the net and from the streambed lifted rocks of fist-size or larger. Pillo showed them how rubbing the rocks in the water helps to dislodge any attached bugs which then flow into the net.
They also dragged and kicked their heel along the streambed in front of the net to get any bugs that might be located there. We repeated the process in several locations to get a good sample of that stream segment.
The next step was for us to examine, identify and catalog the number and type of micro-invertebrates caught in the net. First, we dumped the contents of the nets into trays filled with water. Aided with a magnifying glass, we peered into the trays and with tweezers and spoons remove as many “squiggling” organisms as we could. We sorted them by similar appearance, and put the similar types into ice cube trays filled with water. Pillo handed out a micro-invertebrate guide that helped us identify each species. We recorded the type and numbers on a data sheet and placed samples of each bug into a jar with rubbing alcohol.
You can download the results of the 2017-2018 RBV program by going to www.ct.gov/deep/rbv and clicking on the 2017-2018 RBV Program Summary Report. For comparison purposes you can also check the reports for the previous four years. The most recent RBV program report indicates monitoring was done in 33 Connecticut towns with nine in The Last Green Valley.
I asked Pillo about the report and the importance of the data that she reports back to the CT DEEP.
“When we document high-quality streams in our towns, it helps to put a focus on developing anti-degradation strategies to maintain this habitat, rather than correcting water quality problems after the water is polluted,” she said.
Citizen Science projects like RBV are a great way to assist scientists in the critical process of gathering data. It is also a fun and hugely rewarding experience and clearly Pillo enjoys working with the volunteers.
“The adult volunteers I work with still have that child-like wonder about the world we live in, and this is an excellent way to explore our backyards, but with a meaningful purpose,” Pillo said. “Some volunteers return year after year to help with this program.”
If this type of citizen science project is of interested to you and you are interested in volunteering, please look at the information on the DEEP website and consider getting in touch with us. Training for the 2019 RBV monitoring season will be held on two days, Sept. 13-14. You can also find information on the TLGV website at https://bit.ly/2Hl1ZdQ.
If are looking for a fun activity that just might pique the interest of a budding biologist in your family, then I suggest you attend TLGV’s next Acorn Adventures from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Mashamoquet State Park, 276 Mashamoquet Road, Pomfret.
Kids get to explore what lives under the water by using the RBV method of collecting bugs in the brook with Pillo. We’ll be looking for the squiggling critters that live there. For more information on this event visit the TLGV Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2E0Pcwh and and click on the Event tab or call (860) 774-3300.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. Hundreds of people just like you are volunteering to help collect and record important information on the health of our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. I hope you’ll join me and others as we care for it, enjoy it, and pass it on.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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