Environmental Groups Ask for Volunteers to Help Monitor Local River Health

Tuesday, September 27, 2016, 10:21 am
Paige Filice

Photo credit: Ingham Conservation District

Anyone can become a citizen scientist for a day and don a pair of waders (or sit stream-side) during two of the region’s semi-annual stream monitoring events. Two local environmental groups, the Ingham Conservation District and the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council (Mid-MEAC), are in need of volunteers to assist in the collection of aquatic macroinvertebrates.

The Ingham Conservation District monitors twelve sites that feed into the Red Cedar River and the Grand River. Their sampling event is taking place Saturday, October 1st from 9am-12pm and volunteers are asked to meet at the Ingham Conservation District Education Building in Mason. More information can be found here.

The Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council monitors sites that feed into the Red Cedar River. Their event is taking place Saturday, October 8th at 9am and volunteers are asked to meet at Ferguson Park, in Okemos. More information on this event, as well as an online signup can be found here.

Both groups partner with the Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps), a state-wide volunteer monitoring program. The data collected will be used by local water leaders as well as reported back to the State of Michigan. Historical macroinvertebrate sampling data collected by Mid-MEAC can be found here.

An aquatic macroinvertebrate is an aquatic animal that is big enough to see with the naked eye, and that does not have a backbone ─ essentially a water bug. Like canaries in a coal mine, aquatic macroinvertebrates tell us the condition of a stream’s water quality and habitat. Their abundance and diversity are clues to the health of a river. In general, greater diversity indicates better water quality.

Different macroinvertebrates can tolerate various levels of pollution. Predictions can be made about the quality of a river based on what macroinvertebrates have been found. They are often used by scientists because they are easy to sample and do not migrate much throughout a river. Both the Ingham Conservation District and Mid-MEAC sample twice a year, in the spring and fall, and track what they find and what they historically have found at the same site. Half of Mid-MEACs long-term monitoring sites on the Red Cedar River are trending down, and half are relatively stable.

Aquatic macroinvertebrates make their homes in rocks, leaves and at the bottom of streams. Some spend their entire life in the water, like clams and snails, while others spend just part of their life stage (larval and nymph) and hatch out of the water as adults. Dragonflies spend part of their life in the water and emerge as adults. They play a vital role in the ecosystem in and out of the water. Some eat algae that forms on rocks, while others feed on leaves and sticks that fall into the water. They serve as an important food source for other animals including fish and waterfowl. 

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