Volunteers needed to monitor health of Rock County streams

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ROCK COUNTY--Chuck Heidt doesn't mind getting his feet wet, especially if it ensures good fishing for smallmouth bass.

He samples water from Turtle Creek in Beloit monthly from April through October.

Chuck is not with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Nor is he a biologist. He is a volunteer who has monitored the creek for 12 years.

“I fish throughout the state,” Chuck said. “That's part of my interest in water quality.”

Chuck measures important elements of stream health including temperature, water clarity and dissolved oxygen.

Sound interesting?

Three agencies are hosting a workshop Saturday at Turtle Creek Parkway, Clinton, for people who want to learn how to monitor streams.

Volunteers will become part of an important statewide network.

“There has been a large budget cut with the DNR for the whole Rock River Basin,” said Nancy Sheehan of the nonprofit Rock River Coalition. “We only have two stream biologists to monitor more than 2,000 miles of tributaries. This is why we really need citizens to get involved.”

The coalition's mission is to educate and to provide opportunities for people to improve the river basin.

Sheehan coordinates volunteer stream monitoring. She shows people how to use equipment provided by the coalition. She also teaches them how to determine water quality by identifying insects in a stream.

The coalition and Rock County Land Conservation and Rock County Parks departments organize the workshop, which is open to anyone who cares about clean water.

“The work is important,” said Anne Miller of the land conservation department. “Streams need people to care about what happens in watersheds and to keep them healthy.”

The river basin has five active teams of citizen monitors, she said.

More are needed to provide accurate and long-term information.

Volunteers can choose a stream based on personal interest or proximity to their homes. They also can have them assigned. Monitors are needed on Fisher Creek in Rockport Park, Otter Creek on Vickerman Road and the west branch of Raccoon Creek in Beckman Mill County Park, Sheehan said.

“We have sites that have been previously monitored by volunteers,” she explained. “When trying to determine trends in water quality, it's nice to have 10 years of data.”

Volunteers enter information into an online database. Anyone with web access can view the data by county, stream or site name.

The DNR is notified if a stream shows a decline in water quality.

“If oxygen ratings are low, for example, I contact stream biologists,” Sheehan said.

She encourages people to get involved.

“By returning to one site, you become an expert about that stream,” Sheehan said. “You also fall in love with a place and become a true advocate for it.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.





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