On Saturday, December 10th, 2011 a group of enthusiastic citizens braved the chilly but beautiful Saugahatchee Creek to learn how benthic macroinvertebrates or “aquatic bugs” can tell us a great deal about water quality. The type of water monitoring technique taught in this workshop is referred to as stream biomonitoring.  Put simply, certain aquatic bugs function as indicators of water pollution. Some types have a high tolerance for pollution; therefore if you only find that type of bug in your stream, your stream is not very healthy. However, there are others that cannot tolerate pollution; therefore if they are present you know that your water quality is good, and has been good for some time.  Stream biomonitoring is a good method for determining current and past impacts to water quality. AWW Director, Bill Deutsch was quoted in the Volunteer Monitor Newsletter saying, “If a pollution slug moves through on Monday and you monitor on Wednesday, the chemistry looks fine, but the bugs know better. They were there. They are mini-meters, 24/7.”

Biomonitor trainees sample Saugahatchee Creek for macroinvertebrates
(click here for more pictures)

Before going to the stream participants learned about the different types of aquatic bugs and what factors, particularly human impacts, affect their presence in a stream. They also learned to classify each bug into the appropriate group based on their tolerance for pollution.  Once they were at the stream they put their kick-net skills to use to collect around 100 macroinvertebrates. Finally they calculated a biotic index using the bugs collected, which indicated that this particular stretch of the Saugahatchee Creek had “excellent” water quality. 

 AWW Director, Bill Deutsch and Data Coordinator, Sergio Ruiz-Córdova led the workshop. Also present were several other AWW staff members,  undergrad and graduate level students from Auburn University, Alabama A&M and the University of Alabama in Huntsville,  municipal staff from Phenix City and Montgomery, a biology teacher, a representative of the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Riverkeepers from the Coosa and Choctawhatchee. In the words of Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper and veteran AWW trainer, Mike Mullen, “The Stream Bioassessment workshop this past Saturday was one of if not the best training workshops that I have ever participated since creation of the AWW program”!

Aquatic critters found in Saugahatchee Creek (click here for more pictures)

AWW intends to offer more opportunities for certification in biomonitoring in the coming year. If you are interested watch our website for upcoming workshops and contact us to let us know that you would like to be part of the next training event.  It’s a great opportunity to spend a day at the creek while increasing your knowledge base of aquatic ecology and expanding your water monitoring technique repertoire.