Local Master Naturalist release findings from water quality studies in nearby waterways

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[June 14, 2017]  LINCOLN -  Monitoring the quality of our streams is an ongoing activity for local University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteers. This spring, Vince Long, Pam Moriearty, Bev Noble, Mike Starasta, Gary Struebing and Mark Tebrugge participated in the Watershed Days 2017 - Illinois, a Citizen Science campaign sponsored and coordinated by the Nebraska Watershed Network, an organization affiliated with the University of Nebraska Omaha. For five weeks in April and May, the team tested water samples from Sugar Creek, Kickapoo Creek and Salt Creek, checking for levels of atrazine, nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates. Results were reported to headquarters in Nebraska, where they were recorded with data from over eighty other test sites around Illinois.

Results from Logan County were similar to those from many other downstate sites. Overall, roughly half of the individual tests from all three sites showed low levels of nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates; the remainder showed moderate levels, with no high levels seen at any time. Salt Creek had consistently low levels of nitrites and nitrates, with occasional moderate levels of phosphates. Atrazine was only identified on one date, from Kickapoo and Salt Creeks.

Moriearty noted, “Our results with direct water testing are consistent with the findings of our ongoing Riverwatch project on Sugar Creek. Both types of testing are necessary to get an accurate idea of what’s going on. Our Illinois Project results show that a single water testing is a snapshot in time and may not give the long term picture. In Riverwatch we monitor the small animals that live all the time in the stream. For sensitive species to survive there, the water quality has to be good in the long term. Riverwatch has rated the stream quality of our stretch of Sugar Creek to be good to excellent for the past three years.”

While stream concentrations of nitrates in Illinois increased greatly after the middle of the 20th Century, in the last 15 years nitrate levels have trended slightly downward in the Illinois River watershed. Projects developed by federal, state, university, and commercial organizations are working to optimize agricultural management practices to reduce stream contamination, provide effective buffer areas along streams and educate stakeholders and the public about agricultural and urban sources of contamination. Regular testing is essential to gauge the impact of these programs.

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As part of the Illinois Watershed Project, a University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteer times a nitrate test reaction in the field. A rapid color change in the test strip shows the concentration of the test substance in stream water. This spring, local volunteers tested for nitrates and other chemicals in Sugar Creek, Kickapoo Creek and Salt Creek.

Photo by Bev Noble

The Nebraska Watershed Network, which received funding for the Illinois Project from the National Science foundation and the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, plans to continue this citizen science campaign on an annual basis. An interactive map showing results from this year’s Illinois Project is available at https://www.newatershed.net/projects/ view/46;  more information about the Nebraska Watershed Network is at http://service68443.orgsync.com/ org/nebraskawatershednetwork/home;  and for more information about water quality in Illinois go to https://water. usgs.gov/NAWQA/

The University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program trains and supports volunteers who engage in stewardship and educational projects to preserve and restore the environment. Information about how to become a Master Naturalist can be found at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mn/

[Jennifer Fishburn, Logan County Extensions and Pamela Moriearty, Master Naturlist]


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