I remember as a kid the best part of our family reunion was catching “crawdads” with my cousins in the creek. I didn’t know it at the time, but crayfish were an indicator of the quality of water in that small creek.
I was more worried about whether I was going to get pinched or not.
The proper name for a crayfish is a macroinvertebrate; an insect that does not have a back bone but can be seen with the naked eye. I recently spent an afternoon with seventh-graders doing a stream quality assessment (or stream monitoring) of a local river.
Some of the macroinvertebrates or “bugs” we caught were caddisflies, stoneflies, water pennies, gilled snails, crayfish and aquatic worms.
When we tallied our assessment sheet at the end of our lesson, our stream was in the “Excellent” range.
This allowed me to discuss with the students that the drainage area around the stream is called a watershed and the actions of the land users directly influence the quality of water close to home; then further downstream.
By taking care of the land using best management practices such as no-till cropping, planting cover crops, using fertilizer and pesticides only where needed and as weather permits, fencing animals out of the stream, and developing a manure nutrient management plan and following it, we can prevent nonpoint source pollution in our local streams.
Cattle using the stream as a water source or being in the stream to cool off are a source of nonpoint source pollution. Fencing livestock out of the stream keeps them from trampling banks, destroying vegetation, and stirring up sediment in the streambed.
Not to mention waste deposited by the animals as they stand in the stream.
Fencing is the first step, but planning for livestock water is also important.
Collecting and conveying water from seeps and wet spots to a stock tank serves two purposes; a clean source of water is available for drinking while drying up those muddy areas.
It may also be necessary to build fenced stream crossings for livestock movement. Where it is not feasible to fence stream banks due to frequent out-of-bank flow and flooding, there are options such as fencing one side only, installing electric high tensile wire on 30-foot spacing, or piping clean water to strategically located stock tanks.
Nonpoint source pollution is discharged over a wide land area and not from one specific location. Nonpoint source pollution is contamination that occurs when rainwater or snowmelt washes off plowed fields, city streets, or suburban backyards.
As this runoff moves across the land surface, it picks up soil particles and pollutants such as nutrients and pesticides.
Contact your local soil and water conservation district to see how they can help you protect the creeks, streams, and rivers in your community. And if you have a group that would like to learn more about stream monitoring, they can help you with that also.
As a favorite quote of mine says, “Take care of the Earth, and she will take care of you.”