You don’t need a background in science or expensive equipment to help young scientists monitor water quality in local streams. The Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams (SOS) program was developed for volunteers just like you. With simple tools plus targeted training from the League, you can help Scouts and other youth become citizen scientists.
Information collected by volunteer stream monitors helps us develop a clearer picture of water quality across the country. If you do find water quality problems, we have resources to help identify pollution sources and restore streams to good health.
Options to get youth involved in monitoring local streams range from simple, hands-on educational activities to small-scale restoration projects. Here are a few options to get you started.
Hands-On Environmental Education
The smallest of streams can harbor an astounding variety of beetles, insect larvae, snails, and other aquatic life. In an hour or two, young scientists can collect and identify macroinvertebrates
from a local stream and draw some basic conclusions about stream health.
What is a macroinvertebrate? An invertebrate is an animal that doesn’t have a backbone, and “macro” means that you don’t need a microscope to see one (although some are still very tiny). Aquatic macroinvertebrates live on, under, and around rocks and sediment on the bottom of rivers and streams. Unlike fish, frogs, and other stream dwellers that move around, macroinvertebrates tend to stay in one small area all their lives. They also vary widely in their tolerance for pollution. So the presence (or absence) of certain macroinvertebrates can tell us whether a stream is healthy or not.
Check out our Resources for Monitors for instructions on collecting macroinvertebrates, including equipment lists, data-collection forms, and how-to videos. NOTE: Some states require permits to collect aquatic insects and crustaceans. Contact the local office of your state natural resources conservation agency for clarification.
The Izaak Walton League also developed a mobile app called Creek Critters to help stream monitors identify the critters they find in the water. (Another great tool for tech-savvy youth!) The app is free for iPhone and Android. You can find more details on our Creek Critters web page.
If your youth group is interested in adopting a stream to regularly check water quality, it is important for one or more adult leaders to become trained and certified stream monitors. With this training, leaders can help Scouts and other volunteers determine more advanced conclusions about water quality – including assessments of important chemical and physical aspects of stream health – and play an important role in keeping the local community informed about stream health.
The League can provide the training and support leaders need to become highly skilled stream monitors. Visit the Clean Water Workshops page for details on upcoming workshops or to request a workshop.