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Biological Monitoring

Early in 2000, Cheney Lake Watershed, Inc. applied for an Environmental Protection Agency Water Quality Cooperative Agreement grant to study benthic macroinvertebrates in the North Fork Ninnescah River and its tributaries. The study of these tiny creatures and their habitat provides farmers and other watershed stakeholders with a broader picture of watershed health. The project included an educational component that introduced farmers and other residents to biological monitoring and emphasized the connections between land use and water quality. The Cheney Lake Watershed board uses information gained from the monitoring data to direct watershed funds and educational efforts to specific practices or subwatersheds.

The Healthy Stream

The structure and function of a healthy aquatic community is dependent upon the balance of various components. Water chemistry, nutrients, sunlight, habitat quality, surrounding land use activity and other factors contribute to the mechanical workings of a stream system, and consequently the well being of the organisms living within it. When certain elements become too abundant, some of the aquatic insects and fish do poorly, while other organisms do very well.

When a stream system is out of balance, it is not just the organisms in the stream that are affected. Certain types of bacteria and algae that favor this kind of environment, can be harmful for livestock to drink, and can make drinking water taste poorly if the stream is used for a municipal water supply.

Different organisms can tolerate different amounts of stress. Therefore, the aquatic insects found in a stream that has a lot of stress from pollution will be different than the insects found in a stream that is not under stress from pollution. It is the biologist’s job to evaluate the community of organisms living in a stream environment and determines how healthy it is.

Monitoring the Stream

There are many organisms that can be used to monitor aquatic environmental health In the Cheney Lake Watershed Biomonitoring Project, benthic macroinvertebrates (benthic=bottom of the stream, macroinvertebrate=organisms without a backbone that you can see without a microscope) were used.

There are many organisms that make up the group called benthic macroinvertebrates including aquatic insects, clams, crustaceans (crayfish, etc.), and aquatic worms. Various techniques have been developed to take samples of the macroinvertebrate community. All of them are standardized to provide “relative” abundances of each type of macroinvertebrate. Various habitats are sampled within a stream to collect organisms, which are stored in alcohol to be identified later in the laboratory.

The bank along the stream is prime habitat for a number of macroinvetebrate species.

Information from biomonitoring studies has many uses. It can be used by watershed managers to evaluate the more vulnerable areas of the watershed to be able to allocate valuable resources for implementing best management practices. It can help determine trends in water quality over time to evaluate the effectiveness of changes in land use management. Biomonitoring data can help protect land managers that utilize beneficial practices and help point out areas that contribute pollution.

Lessons Learned

At this point, the biological monitoring data has indicated a few trends that are useful for the Cheney Lake Watershed Project Coordinator and Citizen’s Management Committee.

  1. As the area in cropland increases within a sub-basin, there is a decline in water quality.
     

  2. Intermittent streams play an important role and contribute to the well being of the watershed. As the cropland area around intermittent streams increases, water quality decreases.
     

  3. Soil erosion is contributing to water quality problems. As the area of land with highly erodable soils increases, the water quality decreases.
     

  4. Proper management of rangelands and Conservation Reserve Program grasslands is important. Good practices can lower the impact of land use on streams, improving water quality.
     

  5. There are certain areas within the watershed that are more vulnerable to water quality impairment than others and would benefit from targeted resource allocation.










Cheney Lake Watershed, Inc.
18 East 7th Street - South Hutchinson, Kansas 67505
Phone: 620-669-8161 ext. 4
Fax: 620-669-5496

Cheney Lake Watershed, Inc. does not accept unsolicited advertisements at this fax number.