SOS and Social Distancing: Things You Can Do for Clean Water

Zach Moss, Save Our Streams Coordinator
Man doing chemical testing

COVID-19 seems to have impacted almost every facet of our lives by this point. The effects on grocery shopping, going to the movie theater, visiting family and friends, and traveling have been written about extensively. The pandemic has even stopped people from doing Save Our Streams macroinvertebrate monitoring in their favorite streams: it’s not safe right now to be out with a group, sharing equipment and leaning over a net in close proximity to your monitoring teammates.

Luckily, there are still plenty of other outdoor activities you can safely engage in that will make a difference in our shared quest for clean water even while we are socially distancing. The Izaak Walton League Clean Water Team wants to share some of these ways you can take action for water quality. In the first edition of our new Weekly Water Webinar series, IWLA Clean Water Program staff shared some activities and tips for staying engaged and getting outdoors safely. These activities can all be safely and responsibly performed alone, with a partner, or in a small group.

Stream Selfie

The first and simplest way to get involved would be to join the nationwide Stream Selfie project. All you need is a smartphone or a camera, and a computer. Stream Selfie is an easy way to document and share descriptive data about waterways that you care about while you’re out for a walk in nature! Just snap a photo of a stream (lakes and rivers are okay too!), upload it, answer a few questions about your photo spot, and then submit your Stream Selfie! These selfies help us build a nationwide database of which streams are polluted with trash, when streams do or don't have water in them, why streams matter to the people living near them, and whether streams are being monitored by volunteers. The project map (click the Map tab at the top of this page) shows all the Stream Selfie sites around the country, proving that clean water is important to people young and old all across the United States!

Trash Cleanup

A second option that is both simple and effective is a trash cleanup! Litter can block water flow in streams, take away from the natural beauty of an area, leach pollutants, and harm wildlife and humans using the area. You can do a trash cleanup alone, or you can go in a group (just maintain a responsible distance from your cleanup buddies).

All you’ll need is trash bags, gloves, a trash grabber, and plenty of hand sanitizer. Paddlers, rejoice – you can also pick up litter and put it in your kayak or canoe as you travel along a stream, lake, or river! Be sure to know your state’s laws regarding access and public waters, and ask permission before entering land for a trash cleanup.

Besides making your stream healthier and more beautiful, this activity will help you remember proper hygiene techniques, as you will want to wear gloves and avoid touching your face while picking up trash – and you'll surely wash your hands afterwards. Share your before and after pictures with us on social media!

Salt Watch

The League’s Salt Watch project is another way you can stay engaged with water quality monitoring by yourself or in a small group. Though you may think of Salt Watch as a winter activity, it can also be done in the warmer months as a way to help establish baseline chloride levels and track the effects of chloride in streams long after the winter road-salting season has passed.

All you’ll need is a small cup or container to collect a water sample, a smartphone or camera and computer, and some chloride test strips! You can order a free testing kit from the League. In the event that COVID-19 makes it impossible for IWLA to fulfill kit requests, bottles of chloride test strips can also be ordered directly from sites like Hach or Amazon. If you are ordering on your own, be sure to get the low range (30-600 mg/L) strips. 

Chemical Monitoring

Chloride monitoring through the Salt Watch project is just one kind of chemical monitoring that you can do. Unlike Save Our Streams macroinvertebrate monitoring, chemical monitoring requires no training! All the step-by-step instructions to perform the simple chemical monitoring tests are printed directly on the kits, so you don’t need any prior monitoring experience or advanced science background to participate. You can do all seven tests (nitrate, phosphate, pH, chloride, dissolved oxygen, transparency, and temperature) or you can pick and choose which tests you’re most interested in and just do those.

Chemical monitoring can be done with children, alone, or in a small group. You can split up responsibilities to keep group members at a safe distance from each other if necessary.

Another advantage of chemical monitoring is that it can be done from a bridge, so you don't have to scramble down steep banks or wade through mud and vegetation. All you’ll need for this option is a bucket or other container, a length of string or twine, and something to reel the string up with.

Make sure to rinse your container out three times with water from the stream before doing your tests, and perform the dissolved oxygen test first. Download our data sheets to record your data in the field, and make sure to add your data to the innovative and publicly-accessible Clean Water Hub database.

Creek Critters

The final option covered in the webinar was the Creek Critters app. The Izaak Walton League has very recently partnered with the Audubon Naturalist Society on Creek Critters, which is similar to our SOS macroinvertebrate monitoring but simpler.

The app is free, and it walks you through macroinvertebrate monitoring and identification using a step-by-step identification key. It even posts your results to a map so other people can see what you found.

This is a fun and easy way to integrate natural science and technology for users young and old! All you’ll need is a smartphone or tablet with the Creek Critters app, a net (a small aquarium net will work), a pan or bowl to sort and identify bugs, and a spoon to pick the bugs out of the pan or bowl. Visit the Creek Critters SciStarter page to get started!

Cover photo by Mike Delaney.

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