April 19, 2009

Thousands of baby caddisflies!

Water Quality Monitoring
February 8, 2009
Club Medfly, Missouri River, rivermile 170
text by Steve Schnarr, data collection by Melanie Cheney & Jen Courtney, photos by Melanie Cheney & Amy Jungclaus

Later this year, the Missouri Stream Team program will be turning 20. Since 1989, 3,860 citizen groups have formed across the state, each focused on monitoring, restoring and educating others about their adopted stream. The program is collaboration between Mo. Dept. of Conservation, Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources, Conservation Federation of Mo. and thousands of citizens.

Missouri River Relief is Stream Team #1875. Our adopted “stream” is the Missouri River within the state of Missouri (several other stream teams, luckily, have adopted various stretches within that reach). Typical River Relief grandiosity!

One of the greatest benefits of Stream Teams is the free water quality monitoring training and equipment that is offered. They get right down in the stream with you, showing you how to sample the critters that live in there, show you how to test for several simple chemical attributes and teach how to record data on the physical changes of your stream over time.

Much of what we learned in these classes is in a completely different context on the Missouri River. Turbidity levels considered alarming in some streams are considered clear on the Missouri. Families of critters usually associated with clear Ozark creeks have their members that are adapted to the turbid, muddy and sandy water of the Big Muddy.

At this point, we are just experimenting with monitoring the big river, learning what we can and adapting to its erratic levels.

One of the tools for sampling macro-invertebrates on big, fluctuating rivers is an “artificial substrate basket”. It’s a coated wire cage that you fill with rocks, tie a very long line to, and toss in the current. The critters that like to live in rocks move right in. You pull the thing out three weeks later with a fine mesh net and count everything that lives in there.

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

In the fall of 2007, we tossed a basket. The line wasn’t long enough. Soon after, the river came up, covered the rock we tied the line to and that was the last we saw of it for most of the year! When the river dropped enough to show our rope, we’d try to yank the basket out, but it was stuck under rocks moved by the floods.

This January, though, the river was at the lowest it had been in a few years. I could wade out and dislodge the basket. So we invited Jen Courtney and her kids over, pulled the basket and checked it out.

The basket and the rocks inside were completely encrusted with caddisfly larvae cases – this messy, gooey mix of mucus, organic particles, sand and mud that the little wormlike larvae use to protect themselves as they develop. And there were countless thousands of the larvae. Dragonfly and massive stonefly larvae came crawling out of the mess. A clawless crawdad scuttled in the net. Melanie carefully tallied up the critters.

Jack and Liv were fascinated – plopping insects into an ice cube tray, spraying them down with a bottle.

Then we headed back to the river, using a kick net to sample from overturned rocks in the swift current below Cooper’s Landing. We also used a D-net to sample from a larger area of rocks.
Two days later, the river jumped again, dropped back down, and now it seems will be high for the rest of spring. Who knows?

(also check out our flickr photo gallery of the day...you too could have this much fun! Start your own Stream Team)

Thanks to Barry Poulton (USGS River Studies), Mark Van Patten, Amy Jungclaus and Chris Riggert (MDC) and Priscilla Stotts (DNR) for sharing their knowledge of sampling and ID. Amy and Barry teamed up on the beginnings of a digital Missouri River macroinvertebrate reference guide. Barry is supplying specimens of characteristic Big Muddy macros, and Amy is taking close-up, ID quality photos of them. We are posting them on our flickr site as a set. Thanks for sharing your awesome work, Barry and Amy.

Here's a picture Amy took of the caddisfly larvae that we found in such abundance that day, Hydropsyche orris. I think its common name is a spotted sedge fly.

photo by Amy Jungclaus, MDC. Specimen provided by Barry Poulton, USGS River Studies.

April 3, 2009

Trash Splash!

Confluence Trash Bash
March 28, 2009
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

Text by Steve Schnarr

note: see photos taken by MDC media specialist Dan Zarlenga hosted on our flickr photo site by clicking here.

This was the third year that the Confluence Partnership, together with Trailnet, has hosted a clean-up in the Confluence region. Previously, they had focused on the area around the Old Chain of Rocks bridge – a signature Trailnet project that links Illinois and Missouri with a bike and pedestrian bridge. We either brought one boat to help, or in the case of flooding last year, a trailer to haul trash on land.

This year, thanks to a growing list of partners including the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District.(MSD), the clean-up expanded to include several watersheds throughout the north St. Louis region, including Maline Creek, Watkins Creek, Coldwater Creek and Des Peres Creek. MSD wanted to support an area-wide clean-up to meet their Phase 2 EPA requirements.

Soon, Marc Clemens of Trailnet organized an awesome list of partners to lead sites throughout the area. We beefed up our participation to two boats, and led a Missouri River clean-up out of Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. Andy Tappmeyer, a biologist with Columbia Bottom, brought his boat to help as well, and MDC’s Ron Cooper brought a Bobcat to the site. Not to mention, Mike Clark from Big Muddy Adventures brought out his massive "Clipper" canoe to take a group out to Duck Island on the Mississippi.

Unfortunately, the weather was not good. It was cold, it rained all morning. At times the wind whipped up whitecaps on the river. But the amazing thing was that all of the volunteers that signed up to go on the river showed up. Even more! Although organizers anticipated an amazing 500 volunteers, 330 showed up in the frigid rain. Amazing!

We put 42 people on the river, supplied with trash bag ponchos and little else. There was some serious shivering, but no one declined to go on the river. Even though we cut the river trip short a little, these people did some serious work. Most of our volunteers were from Washington University Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity… and their positive attitude and hard work were inspiring. We were also joined by a great group of Missouri American Water employees.

The weather made Steve Nagle comment, “I’m calling it the Trash Splash”.

We were also joined with a bunch of good friends from past clean-ups. They worked on cleaning up the “small” stuff from an old farm dump on the new Cora Island Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, a piece acquired in part to a partnership between the Trust for Public Lands and the Confluence Partnership. Plus, they gathered dozens of bags of plastic from several drift piles deposited last year.

The final trash haul, after lunch, was brutal. We were extremely lucky to have a good crew of River Relief pros show up. Expert boat drivers were Melanie Cheney, Anthony Pettit, Jeff "Swims with Boots On" Barrow & me. Everyone took a turn getting blown away on the river and we made quick work of the trash haul. Other amazing crew members were: Joe, Allison & Hannah Kellenberger, Joe Engeln, Nick Recker.

We think we got about a ton of trash, including this stuff:
6 55-gallon metal drums
1 Coast Guard buoy
1 hot water heater
2 metal gas tanks
2 tractor tires
18 car & truck tires
51 large trash bags (OK, I admit it...it's a complete guess...)
assorted scrap metal
1 gallon of marine varnish

As soon as we could wrap it up and drop off our scrap metal and tractor tires, we booked it back to Columbia, hoping to avoid the predicted snow. Luckily, we were one of the only places in the state that didn’t get any. Everyone made it back safely and, as far as I know, no one got sick. The Trash Splash rocked!

We were sponsored by: Missouri American Water, Great Rivers Greenway District and St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District. Thank you!!!!