Master Gardeners get wet looking for bugs with AWW

A crew from the Alabama Water Watch Program at Auburn University traveled to the Dadeville Extension Office in October to participate in Extension’s new Water Smart program for Master Gardeners. Half a dozen Master Gardeners from Lee and Tallapoosa counties participated.

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The mid-October meeting was the third in the Water Smart advanced training sessions for Master Gardeners – Advanced Concepts in Landscape Design. This third session, organized by Kerry Smith, ACES Outreach Specialist, featured a morning classroom lecture and presentation, “Making the Connection: Our Landscape, Our Stream, Our Watershed” by Eve Brantley, ACES Water Quality Specialist. The presentation covered various activities on the landscape and the types of nonpoint source pollution that they contribute to surface waters (streams, rivers, lakes and bays). Following the presentation, Tommy Futral, Tallapoosa County Extension Agent, demonstrated the use of the Enviroscape to demonstrate nonpoint source pollution to the public.

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For the afternoon field activities, the AWW crew traveled with the Master Gardeners to a nearby stream that runs behind the Council Middle School in Dadeville. Eric Reutebuch demonstrated the use of the AWW water test kit to measure water chemistry. He measured the stream pH, which was neutral (pH = 7), and the dissolved oxygen (DO), which was more than adequate for supporting a healthy population of aquatic fauna (DO of 7.5 ppm, well above the minimum of 5 ppm mandated by ADEM for supporting a healthy aquatic community). Eric encouraged the group to enroll in the full AWW Water Chemistry and Bacteriological Monitoring workshops to become certified AWW water monitors and start monitoring surface waters in their hometown areas.
Jayme Oates followed with a demonstration of the AWW bacteriological monitoring test. Jayme showed how simple it was to collect a water sample and mix it with media in a bottle, then plate the media out and incubate the sample in either a high-tech incubator or a home-made incubator (made from a small cooler, a night-light and a thermometer). Jayme described how the results of such a simple test indicate the presence/absence and quantity of E. coli bacteria as purple-to-blue colonies on the plates after a 30-48 hour incubation. She said that this test is becoming more and more popular with volunteer monitors throughout the state because of more frequent incidents of E. coli contamination in water and food, and human sicknesses that follow.

Sergio Ruiz-Cordova completed the afternoon program with a demonstration of AWW stream biomonitoring. Sergio showed the group how to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects, worms, crayfish, snails, clams) with two different types of nets, a small seine and a kick net. Then the group was ready to get their feet wet and start collecting aquatic bugs from the stream.  They collected for about half an hour and then gathered together to see what kind of aquatic community the small stream was supporting. Sergio identified the aquatic critters and assigned them to one of three AWW biomonitoring groups: Group 1 – sensitive critters intolerant of pollution, Group 2 –critters that tolerate a wide range of water quality conditions, and Group 3 – pollution-tolerant critters. The Master Gardeners had collected a total of 11 different aquatic critters: mayfly nymphs, caddisfly larva (two different types), riffle beetles, a water penny, crayfish, cranefly larva, blackfly larva, midge larva and aquatic worms. After calculating a cumulative biomonitoring score of 24 for the stream, they concluded that based on the aquatic fauna, the stream was in “Excellent” condition.

Sergio concluded the demonstration by saying that AWW stream biomonitoring is a great tool for teaching environmental science in schools. He said that AWW has adapted its citizen volunteer stream biomonitoring workshop into an accredited school curriculum, Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams, that is being taught to students in several schools in Alabama. To learn more about the AWW Program, the Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams curriculum, and other opportunities to get involved in monitoring, stewardship and management of Alabama’s streams, rivers, lakes and bays, visit the AWW website at