Students

  • WHAT IS RIVER WATCH

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    What is RiverWatch?

    Thousands of students just like you spend a day rafting and exploring Alberta Rivers each year. These students enjoy an amazing field trip as crewmembers aboard a floating science laboratory!

    Many parents and teachers have helped make RiverWatch a success. After a day helping supervise on the river, adults often say, "We never did anything like this when we were in school! " We're always pleased with what they're saying about RiverWatch.

    We're very proud that RiverWatch Science was recognized with the 1997 Prime Minister's National Award for Teaching Excellence. It's hard to top that!

    "Through your dedication and skill, you have opened doors for these young people to exciting studies and careers, and in turn are doing your country a great service. You are an inspiration to fellow educators and all those involved with Canadian youth. Please accept my warmest congratulations and best wishes for continued success."The Right Honourable Jean Chretien

    RiverWatch is designed to give you real-life and hands-on experience with environmental science. Participants are asked to accept four challenges.

    • Be Safe
      RiverWatch has introduced tens-of-thousands of students to their local rivers. Not only is it an amazing science program, it's also a very safe way to learn about rivers. You'll spend a day under the direction of a professional river guide who oversees your safety while paddling and conducting science observations.
    • Conduct Real Science
      RiverWatch is not just about learning science - it's about actually doing science! River Watch gets you doing real research. The data you and other students collect is used to build a database for monitoring the health of Alberta Rivers. One entire day aboard a floating laboratory is truly amazing, but RiverWatch is much more than a one-day field trip! RiverWatch prepares you before the field trip and then helps you with data analysis when you return to school.
    • Team Spirit!
      RiverWatch rafts are much too big for one person to paddle. Also, one person couldn't possibly collect the hundreds of science measurements in one day. Working together in as team is one of the best things about RiverWatch!
    • Taking Care of Rivers
      The health of our rivers is being affected by the sheer combined impact of so many of us. Just look at everyone who's using rivers - anglers, boaters, dams, industries, agriculture, towns and cities. Helping with RiverWatch Science is one good way of helping take care of rivers.
  • Getting Started

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    Getting Started

    RiverWatch isn't just a field trip with friends! It isn't just for a report card mark, either. Your assignment is to research, create and present a report that answers the question:

    "Is this river healthy?"

    The answer to this "big question" requires some first-hand observations of the river. However, there are several activities that will help you get started even before the field trip.

    The more prepared you are ahead of time, the more you'll get out of your field trip experience.

    RiverWatch Science is more than a one-day field trip on a river. Our students are helping make a difference to the environment by taking care of rivers!

    Here's the scale of river health we use:

    1 2 3 4 5
    Excellent - No human impact
    Unpolluted
    Very healthy river
    Okay - Some human impact
    Some pollution
    Healthy river
    Poor - Much human impact
    Grossly polluted
    Very unhealthy river

    Here's what you'll need to do to answer the "one big question"

    1. Learn the chemistry and biology of rivers.
    2. Learn the indicators of river health.
    3. Learn how to monitor river health.
    4. Carefully gather data from your river.
    5. Return to school and enter your data on-line to this web site.
    6. Chart the data to reveal connections and changes.
    7. Evaluate the health of your local river.
    8. Communicate your findings to as many people as you can.
    9. Help raise awareness about rivers.
    10. Make a commitment to help rivers by changing your personal lifestyle.

    We're glad that you're planning to be a part of RiverWatch! Together, we can make a difference in the health of our rivers.

    You'll need to study the section "How to Monitor" before going on a RiverWatch Field Trip. Monitoring is exactly what you'll be doing during your field trip.

    • What is "Monitoring"?
      Monitoring is much like "keeping an eye" on someone's health.
      EX.When someone is ill, a nurse monitors the patient's vital signs such as breathing rate, pulse rate and temperature.
      Q.When you monitor environmental health, what are the vital signs you look for?
    • Your Goal
      Your goal is to learn as much background information as you can before spending a day on the river. Make sure you know why and how to collect measurements that monitor the environmental health of rivers!

    Dissolved Oxygen

    Oxygen is an element essential to all living things. Dissolved oxygen is perhaps the most important abiotic or non-living factor affecting aquatic communities such as rivers. Fish and many macroinvertebrates nymphs and larvae are equipped with gills to extract oxygen from the water they live in.

    Pre-packaged chemistry test kits are used to measure the concentration of dissolved oxygen. The amount of oxygen dissolving in water is affected by temperature, mixing, decay and pollution. Low levels of dissolved oxygen are harmful to many species and can indicate that pollution has entered the water.

    Understanding the basic science of dissolved oxygen will help you interpret the data collected from your local river. Take a deep breath and click below to learn more about dissolved oxygen!

    Phosphorus

    Simply put, phosphorus makes life on earth possible. It is an important plant fertilizer and animals require it for:

    • bones
    • teeth
    • blood plasma
    • cell chemistry
    • genetic material

    Phosphorus is normally present in rivers at low concentrations. Too much dissolved phosphorus can set off a chain of undesirable events:

    • Extra phosphorus increases the growth of aquatic plants and algae.
    • Bacteria eventually decompose the dead plant material.
    • Decomposition removes dissolved oxygen from the water.
    • Fish die if dissolved oxygen drops to critical levels.

    High levels of dissolved phosphorus are an indicator of pollution. Pre-packaged chemistry kits can be used to measure the concentration of dissolved phosphorus. Excessive phosphorus can enter a river from two major sources:

    • sewage effluent from towns and cities
    • storm water that drains from streets and agricultural land

    An understanding of basic phosphorus science can help interpret data collected from local rivers. Click below to learn more about phosphorus and its affects on aquatic ecosystems!

    Aquatic Invertebrates

    Viewing wildlife is one of the best things about spending time along a river. Even aquatic invertebrates - the "bugs" living at the bottom of a river - are interesting if you take a close look at them!

    The kinds of invertebrates found in a river can tell you a lot about the water quality. Click below to learn more about aquatic invertebrates!

  • On The River

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    On The River

    RiverWatch makes for a field trip that you'll never forget!

    • Yes, you'll have fun with your friends.
    • Yes, you'll see some interesting things along the way.
    • Yes, you'll get of the school for a day.

    These good things, however, are just icing on the cake. The basic and most important things about a RiverWatch Field Trip are personal safety and data collection.

    Here are good tips on what to do "On the River!"

    Your goal "on the river" is to collect as much scientific data as you can during one short day. Don't get distracted by the fun of a day spent rafting with your friends.

    • When there's science to be done … stay focused!
    • When there are things to learn … investigate!

    Remember that the purpose of the day is gather observations that will help answer the "big question"

    Is this river healthy?

    Here are some tips that will help you investigate the health of your local river

    Collect Accurate Data

    Professional ecologists around the world use the same science equipment that you'll use during a River Watch Field Trip. You'll perform real science to collect real data. Be very careful and make the most accurate measurements you can.

    Listen carefully to the science talk given by your raft guide. If measurements are done incorrectly, in a hurry or without real care and accuracy, the purpose of the day will be lost.

    • If you're not sure what to do with the science equipment, just ask!
    • If you run into problems, ask your guide for help.
    • It's all right to start over if mistakes have been made.
    Get The Most Out Of The Day!

    You'll never get another one-day opportunity like this. Don't be shy - this is your day and your education! Get involved!

    • Be interested in the world around you.
    • Learn as much as you can about science and the health of the river.
    • Learn on purpose … not by chance.
    • Do more than just "get through the day".
    Ask Questions!

    Be sure to ask questions and investigate! Don't stand around waiting - seize the day! Don't wait for the answers to come to you - go looking for answers!

    • Think up questions. Ask for answers. Talk to people.
    Use the Experts!

    You have professional guides, rafts and science kits at your disposal for an entire day - use these resources! River Watch is at your service.

    • Experts like questions. In fact, the more questions that you ask, the more they'll tell you without even being asked!
    • Experts like a good audience. The more involved you are, the more involved the experts become.
    • Your raft guide is very familiar with the ecology of your river. If you see something that you don't understand, ask your guide. Other students will also benefit from hearing the answers.
    Learn From Your Classmates!

    When a classmate asks a question, listen to the answer! They may have thought of something that you need to know.

    • Be sure to participate in discussions about interesting observations!
    • If you finish your assigned science task early, visit other groups of students and find out what they're doing. Ask them how they did things.
    • Take a look at the invertebrates other students collect at each stop. Be sure that you can identify them all. Look for unusual organisms.
    Get The Big Picture!

    Before leaving a study site, look at the data sheet and compare the results with the previous sample site data.

    • Point out data patterns and trends and suggest reasons. Ask the experts what they think of your ideas.
    • At the end of the trip, participate in a summary of what you've learned and observed. You might be tired and looking forward to a bus seat back to school, but don't miss the final opportunity to "get the big picture"!
    One of our RiverWatch students noticed that they never saw seagulls flying over a bay along the river. When they asked me why this never happened, I said, "That's easy… … because then they'd be "bagels"!

    Your goal "on the river" is to learn as much as you can during one short day. You're part of a team looking for the answer to this one question:

    Is this river healthy?

    Remember the purpose of the day! It's not "wait around until someone tells me what to do". It's "What can I do to get a great education?"

    • Your team is responsible for collecting the most accurate data possible at each study site.
    • As a team member, you'll also help to carry and paddle rafts and assist in all gear clean-up.
    • Help your guide and your classmates whenever you can.

    Pitch-in and be sure that you can be proud of your contributions all day long. It's a nice feeling to be part of a team.

    Here are a few tips that will help you "pitch-in"!

    Stay Focused!

    You have a "big question" to answer. Remember the purpose of the day! Well…what is it? Hope you haven't forgotten already! Go ahead, say it!

    Your team is responsible for collecting data at each study site. Do your part and then more.

    Check the completeness of the data sheet before repacking the science kit. Don't miss a piece of data in the rush to get going!

    Volunteer!

    When your guide asks for an assistant or needs something done, volunteer!

    Finish all the tests at each site, even if you have to volunteer to do an extra test.

    If someone notices that an observation is missing from the data sheet, be a "field trip hero" and volunteer to do the extra test.

    Be A Team Player!

    Do your assigned science test and then check back with the guide. There may be something else that you can help with.

    Check around for equipment or clothing that needs packing back into the raft. Lookout for other people's lost belongings!

    Pick-up litter - even if someone else left it or left it a long time ago. We're here to help take care of the river!

    We meet a lot of interesting people along the river, and a lot of them are really interested in what we're doing. It's a good policy to be polite, helpful and kind at all times.

    Be Polite

    Wave or say hello to people that we meet.

    • Respect quiet birdwatchers or golfers concentrating on their swings.
    • Explain what you're doing if people ask.
    • Paddle far beyond anglers and their fishing lines.
    • Say thanks to your teacher, guide and parents!

    I'm writing down observations for RiverWatch, Sir! I'd love to tell you about the health of this river

    Clean-Up

    Clean-up your own litter during snacks, lunch or science tests.

    • Put wrappers from plastic straws, candy or gum into your pocket.
    • Discard waste chemicals into the proper collection bottles.
    • Spit gum into a wrapper and place it in a garbage can.
    • Apple cores are garbage.
    • Please pitch-in and help us when we clean a littered site.
    Be Kind

    We observe and handle a lot of wildlife in one day.

    • Don't scare other students with invertebrates.
    • Gently release all specimens instead of throwing them back into the water.
    • Be quiet when floating past wildlife.
    • After looking for invertebrates, return large rocks right side up in the river.

    Checking on the environmental health of a river requires us to "get close and personal" with moving water. Rivers, river valleys and wildlife are certainly beautiful and enjoyable - as long as you keep "safety first"!

    • Safety comes first with all River Watch activities. Tens of thousands of students have enjoyed River Watch field trips without serious incident.
    • The rafts are really large rubber busses that move people from study site to study site. Our boats are so big that we can even accommodate students using wheelchairs!
    • You'll work along the river shoreline, wade into shallow water and paddle rafts to study sites during a day spent with River Watch. Each activity is safe and enjoyable under the supervision of our trained river guides.
    • Make sure that you hear everything the guide says. Listen to the introductory talks on shore and in the raft. If you aren't sure what to do, ask your guide.

    Here are the main safety considerations that make for a great day on the river!

    Personal Floatation Devices

    Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD) at all times. The PFD must be zipped, clipped and tied.

    • The bright yellow color is worn facing out.
    • The bottom of the PFD can be turned up "kayak style" if it is too long.
    • If you need to add another layer of clothing, put it on under the PFD.
    • Keep your PFD on at all times until your guide says that you're finished for the day.
    • Wear a PFD even while performing science tests along the shore.
    • Wear the PFD during lunch - it's not a seat cushion.
    • At the end of the day, don't return to the river to help with other rafts if you've already removed your PFD.
    Paddles

    Paddles are only used for paddling. Avoid splashing, mock sword fights and flicking rocks into the river.

    Look first and be careful with paddles.

    • Pick-up paddles by the T-grip handle - not the middle of the shaft.
    • Pick-up paddles slowly - avoid everyone's teeth!
    • Keep one hand on the top of the handle for the best and safest grip.
    Falling Overboard

    There is always a slim chance that paddlers and waders may fall into the water. Here are some thoughts on this subject…

    Look first and be careful with paddles.

    • Pick-up paddles by the T-grip handle - not the middle of the shaft.
    • Pick-up paddles slowly - avoid everyone's teeth!
    • Keep one hand on the top of the handle for the best and safest grip.

    You'll be outdoors for almost the entire day during a River Watch Field Trip. There are no stores along the way and no place to warm-up indoors. You'll have to come prepared to look after all your own food, water and clothing needs.

    We supply rubber boots and personal floatation devices to everyone before the trip starts. If it is cool, windy or lightly raining, we can also supply everyone with rain jackets.

    You'll need to consider bringing the following items:

    • day pack
    • extra socks - they'll get wet!
    • cool or rainy clothing
      • sweater
      • wind jacket
      • rain pants or warm-up pants if you have them
      • gloves
      • hat or toque
    • cold weather clothing
      • long underwear
      • sweater
      • ski jacket
      • toque
      • gloves (2 pairs)
      • wool socks
    • hot weather accessories
      • sunscreen
      • hat
      • sun glasses
      • shorts
    • food
      • bag lunch
      • thermos of hot soup on cold days
      • drinks
      • cans, juice boxes or bottles
      • bottled water
    • snacks
      • fruit
      • bars

    Common Clothing Mistakes

    Here are some of the common clothing mistakes that you'll want to avoid for a day with River Watch:

    • Jeans and cotton socks get wet, stay wet and make you cold. Consider lighter and faster drying pants and try to bring wool socks.
    • Huge, bell-bottom jeans just get wet and dirty. They also make it hard for you to get in and out of the raft.
    • Nylon jackets are not rain jackets. They aren't waterproof.
    • Cotton "hoodies" are not a warm outer layer. Wind goes right through it, and if it gets wet, it stays wet. Your outer layer needs to be windproof and or waterproof.
    • Keys or a wallet in your back pocket have a tendency to fall into the river. Keep them secure in a zipped pocket of your daypack.

    A River Guide's Advice

    If you're unsure about any part of RiverWatch, the best place to get information is from an expert source - a RiverWatch guide. These skilled professionals make a living being on the river, day after day, in good or bad weather.

    Here's what one guide - Stu - recommends for staying comfortable out on the river:

    The Secret

    A typical day at River Watch can involve any type of weather. Enjoying the day may come down to staying warm and dry.

    The secret to staying comfortable out on the river is having the right clothes and then constantly adding or losing layers as the weather changes. Here's what I mean about clothes constantly going on and coming off…

    Getting Dressed

    I'll start off most days with a basic pair of pants, a long sleeved shirt, a sweater and windproof jacket. If it's chilly, I'll start with my long underwear and also throw on a toque.

    Early Morning

    After we've overviewed the day and prepped for the trip with the whole group, I'll usually lose the sweater (a PFD will add a little extra insulation), but keep a light jacket on to keep out the wind. I always have a pair of gloves handy, because paddling is cold on the hands even on good mornings.

    Afternoons

    If the sun peaks out, out comes the sun hat and shorts. If the winds pick up and the clouds come in, I'll put on my storm jacket and storm pants to keep myself dry during any rain.

    Paddling Generates Heat

    My sweater is a key ingredient I take on and off as my activity level changes. For example, if we're working hard paddling the rafts, I won't need the sweater to keep warm. In contrast, I'll put it on while I'm sitting down for lunch so that I don't lose all the warmth I generated while paddling.

    Rainy Days

    I bring two sweaters on days that look like one of those long rainy days. There's nothing worse than sitting on a raft on the river, being wet and having a cold wind come along and make you feel miserable.

    Being able to layer-up under a good rain jacket (which River Watch can provide you for the day), throw on a toque and a pair of gloves makes it hard for even the toughest weather to ruin the day.

    Toasty Feet

    Inevitably, my feet get wet, so having a spare pair of wool socks to switch into part way through the trip is icing on the cake!

    Things To Leave At Home

    You'll be outside and around water for an entire day with RiverWatch. You don't need to bring anything that might be damaged by water, otherwise cause problems or that we can supply for you.

    You should leave these things at home…

    Things that can be damaged by water…

    • expensive cameras
    • video cameras
    • CD players
    • electronic games
    • cell phones
    • pagers
    • binders
    • school binders and paper

    Things that can cause problems…

    • fishing rods
    • water cannons
    • pocket knives
    • individually wrapped candies
    • sunflower seeds
    • glass containers
    • footballs, basketballs, etc.
    • swim suits
    • money
    • cigarettes
    • matches
    • glass containers
    • drugs, cigarettes or alcohol

    Things that we can supply…

    • paper and pens
    • rubber boots - but if you have your own, bring them!
    • rain jacket - but if you have your own, bring it!
  • BACK AT THE LAB

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    Back At the Lab!

    Your RiverWatch Field Trip is only one short day out on the river, but it's a very rich source of information. You'll have more work to do "back at the lab".

    Work-Up The Data

    This is how real science works! Field research is only one small part of any project. It takes considerable time, thought and organization to "work-up the data" when a scientist heads "back to the lab".

    • A thoughtful effort is required on your part to collect, check, enter and make sense of all the data that you collect.

    • Without organized data, your discoveries might remain unnoticed in the jumble and confusion of all those numbers.

    Your goal back-at-the-lab is to develop and present a quality report that answers the question:

    Is this river healthy?

    Here's a few tips for working "Back at the Lab!"

    If things go according to plan, you'll finish the RiverWatch Field Trip and head back to school with an accurate and complete data sheet.

    • Look after your datasheet - guard it if you have to. It represents a day of valuable research by many people!
    • Enter your data into the "River Data and Maps" section of this web site when you return to school. Data entry has to be done carefully and accurately. Many people will be using this information to judge the health of your river.

    Your teacher will assign one or more students to carefully enter the data sheet observations into the on-line database. This task will insure that your data is not lost and that it remains available for everyone's use now and into the future!

    Once the data is entered on-line, take a moment to congratulate yourself! You've made a valuable contribution towards understanding and taking care of Alberta Rivers!

    Once your data is entered into the on-line database, the fun begins! Here's where you use your brainpower to make sense of all those numbers.

    Charting

    In the "River Data and Maps" section of this web site, choose "Graph Collected Data" to work with all the river data entered by the thousands of students before you. You'll need to choose and graph the data best suited to understanding the health of your river.

    Comparison

    Compare the chart trends and look for connections between different abiotic and biotic factors. You can compare any sets of data that you think might help you understand the river.

    • Is dissolved oxygen related to temperature?
    • Or, is the numbers of stonefly nymphs related to dissolved oxygen?

    Once you have an answer to the question, "Is this river healthy?" you'll need to make a report that summarizes what you did, what you found out and what you conclude and recommend.

    Groups

    Work alone, with a partner, with a raft group or as an entire class to make your report.

    Report Styles

    You can choose from a variety of report styles such as a(n):

    • word processed "State of the River" report
    • formal science lab report
    • multimedia presentation
    • web page
    • upbeat video that discusses your research, results and conclusions
    • environmental report card on how we're treating the river
    • medical report with the river as the patient
    • drama play that enacts data collection, results and actions
    • a newspaper article

    ...or any other format that your teacher approves.

    What do you do with your finished report? Yes, your teacher will likely want it "handed-in" for a mark, but you also have the opportunity to present your report to a lot of other interested people:

    • the class
    • your parents
    • relatives
    • neighbors
    • the principal
    • the parent council
    • the mayor
    • the alderman
    • the local media
    • your MLA
    • your MP
    • the Environment Minister
    • other schools

    ...or any other person or organization your teacher approves.

    Share Your Report!

    The bottom line is share your report - you worked hard to produce it! Get some mileage out of it!

    • Practice presenting your report from your heart and don't just read it. Put some life, creativity and humor into your work.
    • Produce something on the cutting edge …try some form of telecommunications with another school that also went out on the river.
    • Send your school's best report to us here at River Watch!

    Stewardship refers to the way we each care for our rivers. Two things we can do to help involve raising awareness and lifestyle changes.

    Raising Awareness

    Do something positive with your "State of the River" report. Use it to produce positive conservation and stewardship messages that can be targeted at other students in your school, your own family, your community or city.

    Try your hand at raising awareness through a(n):

    • interest-catching poster
    • skit
    • video
    • poem
    • song
    • self-test
    • home improvement plan
    • greeting card
    • TV commercial
    • radio announcement
    • door-to-door flyer
    • game
    • brochure
    • letter to the editor
    • letter to a politician
    • letter to an industry
    • a neighborhood survey

    ...or any other format approved by your teacher.

    Over time, see if you can measure any results. How many people heard or saw your report or eco-message?

    Lifestyle Changes

    There are lots of things you can do to change your lifestyle and reduce your impact on rivers.

    • Listen to an expert.
      • Bring in a guest speaker.
      • Go and hear a speaker.
    • Register to take a course.
      • Learn how to paddle.
      • Learn how to bird watch.
    • Sign-up for a tour or trip.
      • Take a whitewater raft trip.
      • Visit a nature interpretive center.
    • Become a member of an organization helping rivers.
      • Join a bird watching group, zoo or naturalist society.
    • Spend more time outdoors. Use the river and river valley more often for
      • walking
      • cycling
      • blading
      • picnicking
      • boating
      • bird watching
      • horseback riding
      • camping
      • fishing
    • Change the way your home is maintained.
      • Check for tap or toilet leaks around your home.
      • Change the showerheads and toilet tanks to become "low-flow".
      • Water the lawn less and more carefully.
  • Boarding Pass

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    RiverWatch Boarding Pass

    Before going on the raft trip with RiverWatch, there are a lot of things to do! It's only one day on the river but it's packed full of value! The more prepared you are, the more fun and benefit you'll get out of the day.

    Here's a "Things-to-Do" list to help you get ready. Once you've completed everything on the list, you'll have earned a RiverWatch Boarding Pass!

    Explore "Student Information"

    • Complete "Awareness and Understanding Survey"
    • Complete "Personal Action Surveys"
    • Pass the "Safety Quiz"
    • Pass the "Pre-Trip Quiz"

    Discuss the trip newsletter with parents

    • "Permission Form" signed
    • "Student Information Form" signed
    • Give signed forms and fee to my teacher

    Organize all gear for a day on the river

    Water Quality Chemistry

    Water is a very good solvent. In fact, pure water is seldom found in nature because it readily dissolves the many chemicals that wash off the land or pour out of effluent pipes.

    Most Canadians use surface water from ponds, lakes or rivers for drinking and household use. Clean water is so important to healthy communities. Measuring the concentration of a few key chemicals can help indicate river water quality.

    Is your river healthy?

    • Dissolved Oxygen

      Oxygen is an element essential to all living things. Dissolved oxygen is perhaps the most important abiotic or non-living factor affecting aquatic communities such as rivers. Fish and many macroinvertebrates nymphs and larvae are equipped with gills to extract oxygen from the water they live in.

      Pre-packaged chemistry test kits are used to measure the concentration of dissolved oxygen. The amount of oxygen dissolving in water is affected by temperature, mixing, decay and pollution. Low levels of dissolved oxygen are harmful to many species and can indicate that pollution has entered the water.

      Understanding the basic science of dissolved oxygen will help you interpret the data collected from your local river. Take a deep breath and click below to learn more about dissolved oxygen!

      • Background Information

        The air that we breathe every second of every day is composed of 21% molecular oxygen gas (O2). This means that about one out of every five molecules in the atmosphere is an oxygen molecule (particle).

        Approximately 75% of the atmospheric oxygen is produced by one-celled plants (phytoplankton) floating in the oceans. Oxygen is required by all living things, as well as the processes of combustion (burning) and oxidation (rusting of iron).

        What then, is dissolved oxygen? Click below to learn more!

        • What is dissolved oxygen?

          Dissolved oxygen is merely the oxygen molecules that have mixed in with water molecules. It gets there by diffusing from the air; when trapped by aeration or bubbling; and as a waste product from green plant photosynthesis.

          Oxygen gas dissolves in water much like the carbon dioxide responsible for the fizz in a can of soda pop. Carbon dioxide (CO2), however, is 200 times more soluble in water than oxygen.

          Oxygen is not very soluble and occurs dissolved in only trace amounts. The tiny amounts of dissolved oxygen are measured in the range of 1-14 milligrams per litre (mg/L). While one out of every five molecules in the atmosphere is oxygen, in water, only 1-14 molecules out of a million are oxygen. Said another way, the concentration of dissolved oxygen is 1-14 parts per million (ppm).

          Note: The concentration units of mg/L and ppm are equivalent. (mg/L = ppm)

          Aquatic organisms such as fish and macroinvertebrates rely on gills for breathing dissolved oxygen. Bacteria also use oxygen when they decompose dead organisms. So far, however, no one has devised a way for humans to extract oxygen from water during a dive.

        • What natural processes increase dissolved oxygen levels?

          Oxygen is only slightly soluble. Several abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) processes help to increase the amount of dissolved oxygen.

          Abiotic Factors That Increase Dissolved Oxygen

          • Faster moving water holds more oxygen than slow or standing water. Turbulence or splashing whitewater falling over weirs, dams and rocks traps air into the water, increasing dissolved oxygen levels.
          • The mixing of water from top to bottom in a river ensures that oxygen levels are fairly constant no matter what the depth.
          • Water temperature can affect dissolved oxygen levels. Cold water is capable of holding more oxygen than warm water.
          • Increasing barometric pressure can force more oxygen into solution. This effect is also accomplished with decreasing altitude. Water at lower elevations is under greater pressure and contains more dissolved oxygen.

          Biotic Factors That Increase Dissolved Oxygen

          • Photosynthesis by aquatic plants and algae adds oxygen into water during daylight. Bubbles of oxygen gas can actually be seen clinging to and rising from submerged leaves under direct sunlight.

          During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight in a reaction with carbondioxide and water. The result is the production of glucose (sugar) andthe release of oxygen gas.

          6CO2(g) + 6H2O(l) + sunlight --> C6H12O6(s) + 6O2(g)
        • What natural processes decrease dissolved oxygen levels?

          Oxygen is only slightly soluble at the best of times. Compounding this problem are several abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) processes that actually decrease the amount of dissolved oxygen.

          Abiotic Factors That Decrease Dissolved Oxygen

          • Warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cold water. (This same rule also applies when warm soda pop fizzes out of a can or glass. The carbon dioxide dissolved in the liquid is less soluble at warmer temperatures.)
          • Shallow water holds less dissolved oxygen. River levels tend to drop throughout the summer as mountain snow finishes melting. Shallow water moves more slowly and heats up faster. This often creates a critical time for aquatic organisms as dissolved oxygen levels drop.
          • Turbid or cloudy water may have lower oxygen levels. Less sunlight is able to penetrate the water and less photosynthesis is likely to occur.
          • Decreasing barometric pressure can release oxygen out of a solution. This effect is also accomplished with increasing altitude. Water at higher elevations is under less pressure and contains less dissolved oxygen.

          Biotic Factors That Decrease Dissolved Oxygen

          • Levels of dissolved oxygen decrease during the night because photosynthesis stops. A daily graph of oxygen concentrations shows an undulating or wavy pattern with the lowest readings occurring just before dawn on hot summer mornings.
          • With no photosynthesis occurring at night, animal and plant respiration gradually reduces the remaining dissolved oxygen. During cellular respiration, animals and plants take-in oxygen to "burn" glucose (sugar). This reaction releases carbon dioxide, water and energy.
          C6H12O6(s) + 6O2(g) + enzymes --> 6CO2(g) + 6H2O(l) + energy
        • How is oxygen cycled through the biosphere?

          There are two main processes occurring in all ecosystems - energy flow and material cycling. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are cycled in a symbiotic relationship (mutualism) between plants, animals and bacteria. This carbon-oxygen cycle operates in water in much the same way as it does on land:

          • Green plants use carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis.
          • Animals use oxygen and release carbon dioxide during respiration.
          • Bacteria use oxygen and release carbon dioxide during decomposition.

          Three natural processes cause the cycling of oxygen and carbon dioxide in aquatic ecosystems:

          • photosynthesis
          • cellular respiration
          • decomposition
      • The Effects of Low Oxygen

        High levels of dissolved oxygen are necessary to maintain diversity in aquatic communities. High dissolved oxygen levels can even make drinking water taste better. It's therefore important to understand the human activities that might cause reduced dissolved oxygen levels.

        • What human activities cause low levels of dissolved oxygen?

          Several human activities can affect the oxygen concentrations in a river:

          • Warm water discharged from factories, wastewater treatment plants or power plants reduces dissolved oxygen levels. This is known as thermal pollution.
          • Warm water with low oxygen levels is found in slow, shallow rivers created by withdrawing water for irrigation or the filling of reservoirs. In 2000, there was concern that irrigation water taken from the Little Bow River might leave fish in a desperate situation during late summer.
          • Warm water with low oxygen levels can result when vegetation is removed from stream banks during landscaping, logging or clearing farmland. Less vegetation results in less shade from the sun and higher water temperatures result.
          • Nutrients added to water by fertilizers washing-off fields or added by urban sewage can produce excessive plant or algae growth in rivers. During late summer or winter, decomposing bacteria break down the masses of dying aquatic plants and algae. This decay process consumes large amounts of dissolved oxygen, affecting fish and other pollution sensitive organisms.
          • Animal and plant waste (pulp, manure, vegetable peels, blood, leaves, grass) entering rivers from pulp mills, feedlots, dairies, food-processing plants, meatpacking plants, forests and lawns create eutrophic or organically enriched conditions.

            This organic loading may result in low oxygen levels as bacteria decompose the material. When populations of microscopic decomposers rapidly increase, a situation of high biological oxygen demand (B.O.D.) is created. Under extreme conditions of high B.O.D., anaerobic bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide gas with a rotten egg smell.

        • How do low oxygen concentrations affect aquatic ecosystems?

          Dissolved oxygen levels affect the survival of aquatic organisms. Trout and the nymphs of mayflies or stoneflies are found only in water with high oxygen concentrations.

          If dissolved oxygen levels are low, only organisms such as leeches, snails and roundworms can survive. Fish and stonefly nymphs die while trapped in water with decreased oxygen levels. Low levels of dissolved oxygen can result in significant fish kills, especially in late summer or during the winter.

      • Dissolved Oxygen Test Kits

        Dissolved oxygen levels can be tested with portable chemistry kits. Using the kits require several steps and careful attention to instructions.

        • Test Kit Contents

          The dissolved oxygen (DO) test requires the addition of four chemicals and so becomes fairly complicated. Careful attention to a set of detailed instructions is required. The dissolved oxygen test kit uses:

          ReagentChemical ContentFormulaPercentage Content
          Dissolved Oxygen 1
          Reagent
          manganese (II) sulfate
          Mg(S04)
          100%
          Dissolved Oxygen 2
          Reagent
          lithium hydroxide
          potassium iodide
          sodium azide
          LiOH
          KOH
          NaN3
          55-65%
          30-40%
          1-5%
          Dissolved Oxygen 3
          Powder Pillows
          sulfamic acid
          H2SO3NH2
          99%
          Titrant Solution
          distilled water
          propylene glycol
          sodium sulfate
          sodium thiosulfate
          H2O
          C3H8O2
          Na2S04
          Na2S2O3
          70-80%
          20-30%
          1-5%
          1%

          WARNING: The chemicals in this kit may be hazardous to the health and safety of the user if inappropriately handled.

          • Read all labels
          • Wear gloves and goggles
          • Collect the waste solution in a plastic Nalgene waste bottle. This solution should be neutralized with sodium thiosulfate before flushing into the sanitary sewer system.
        • Test Kit Instructions

          WARNING: The chemicals in this kit may be hazardous to the health and safety of the user if inappropriately handled. Please read all warnings carefully before performing the test and use appropriate safety equipment.

          1. Place the kit in a safe, dry place on the ground. Look for a water sample collection site upstream of other classmates in the river.
          2. Use the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Bottle to collect flowing river water. Slowly submerge the tilted bottle with the opening pointing downstream.
          3. Fill the DO bottle to 1/2 way up the neck of the bottle. Do not stopper the bottle yet. Stand the bottle back in the test kit.
          4. Wear safety goggles and gloves. Open a Dissolved Oxygen #1 Foil Packet and a Dissolved Oxygen #2 Foil Packet. Carefully tap the contents of each packet into the DO bottle. Discard the empty packets into the garbage bag provided. This solution should be rinsed off if skin contact occurs.
          5. Place the glass stopper into the DO bottle. Press on the stopper and quickly tip any overflow solution from the top of the DO bottle into the DO Waste Bottle. If an air bubble is trapped under the stopper, ask your guide for help.
          6. Grip the bottle and stopper firmly. Invert to mix. A brownish flocculent (floc) precipitate will form. If any powdered reagent is left stuck to the bottom of the bottle it will not affect the test results.
          7. Place the DO bottle back in the test kit. Allow the sample to stand until the floc settles to the white line on the bottle. Invert the bottle again and let the floc settle a second time (4 to 5 minutes).
          8. Use the clippers to open one Dissolved Oxygen #3 Powder Pillow. Carefully add the acid contents of the pillow to the DO bottle. Restopper the bottle and tip any overflow into the DO Liquid Waste Bottle. At this point, trapped air bubbles are not important. Invert to mix. The floc will dissolve and a yellow colour will appear if oxygen is present.
          9. Work over top of the open waste bottle while completely filling the plastic measuring tube with the prepared DO sample. Use the upside down square mixing bottle as a lid, then quickly flip both containers to transfer the contents from the tube into the square mixing bottle.
          10. Add Sodium Thiosulfate drop-by-drop into the square mixing bottle until the solution changes from yellow to colourless. Hold the dropper straight up and make sure that drops fall directly into the sample liquid. Swirl to mix after each drop and compare against a white background. Count each drop and record the total number added. Each drop = 1 mg/L dissolved oxygen.
          11. Clean-up by pouring the DO bottle solution into the plastic DO Waste Bottle. Next, use the clear solution in the square mixing bottle to rinse the DO bottle and test tube. Add the rinse to the waste bottle. If crystals remain in the DO bottle, rinse with a full square-mixing bottle of river water, swirl and empty into the waste bottle. If crystals still remain, repeat the rinse process.
        • Testing Biological Oxygen Demand

          Higher-level science classes may wish to take the Dissolved Oxygen Test one step further and calculate Biological Oxygen Demand.

          Remember, organic material (pulp, cattle manure, vegetable peels, blood, leaves, grass) can be a form of pollution entering rivers from pulp mills, feedlots, dairies, food-processing plants, meatpacking plants, forests and lawns. When bacteria decompose this material, oxygen is removed from the water and aquatic life may be harmed.

          To perform the B.O.D. Test, the first sample of river water is tested on-site for dissolved oxygen. Then, a second sample of river water is sealed without bubbles, covered to prevent sunlight access and taken back to school.

          • After five days without light, the second water sample is tested for dissolved oxygen concentration.
          • The second DO concentration is subtracted from the first.
          • If the difference is zero, the water did not contain organic material.
          • If the difference is more than zero, the water did contain organic material that was decomposed by oxygen-using (aerobic) bacteria.
          • Judge the water quality by referring to the chart below...

            B.O.D. mg/L
            Water Quality
            < 2
            Excellent
            2 - 4
            Good
            4.1 - 10
            Fair
            > 10
            Poor

            Adapted from "Field Manual for Global Low-Cost Water Quality Monitoring".

      • Chemistry Theory

        Higher-level science classes will be interested in the balanced chemical equations for each step of the dissolved oxygen test. The reactions for the Modified Winkler Method or Iodometric Method are described below.

        • Foil Packets #1 and #2

          To start the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Test, the reagents from the two foil packets are added into the river sample. This step combines manganese (II) sulfate from DO Packet #1 with lithium hydroxide base contained in DO Packet #2. Manganese (II) hydroxide is temporarily produced along with lithium sulfate.

          Dissolved oxygen in the river water then reacts immediately with the manganese (II) hydroxide to produce an orange manganese (II) oxide floc that gradually settles to the bottom of the sample bottle.

        • Sulfamic Acid Pillow #3

          The orange manganese (II) oxide floc reacts with the potassium iodide from Reagent #2 and the sulfamic acid now added by Powder Pillow #3. This releases free iodine with a brownish colour. The dissolved oxygen is now "fixed", further air bubbles are not a problem and the final titration step can be delayed up to 8 hours. The focus for remaining procedures is now the iodine, not the oxygen.

        • Titration Solution

          With the final titration step, the focus is on the iodine equivalent rather than on the original molecular oxygen. Each drop of titrant added to the iodine indicates that a greater amount of dissolved oxygen was present in the original river water. The Sodium Thiosulfate Solution is titrated drop-by-drop, reducing the iodine back to its ionic form and changing the colour from yellow-brown to clear.

      • Interpreting Results

        Measuring dissolved oxygen is one of the most important, if not the most important, tests of water quality for aquatic life. High levels of dissolved oxygen can indicate good water quality and a healthy ecosystem; lower levels can be an indication of pollution and environmental stress.

        • A Guide to Dissolved Oxygen Levels
          Dissolved Oxygen
          Concentrations
          mg/LRiver Water QualityRiver Ecosystem
          High7 - 11ExcellentHealthy
          Medium4 - 7GoodBorderline Healthy
          Low2 - 4PoorUnhealthy
          Very Low0 - 2Very PoorWon't support life

          Adapted from "RiverWatch Network Water Sampling and Analysis Manual"

        • Interpreting Dissolved Oxygen Levels

          There are many slightly different interpretations of dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, but the trend is clear. Within the possible range of 1-14 mg/L...

          • low concentrations indicate poor water quality and unhealthy ecosystems
          • high concentrations indicate good water quality and healthy ecosystems.

          Here is a selection of interpretations for dissolved oxygen results:

          • The Global Water Sampling Project in New Jersey states that a dissolved oxygen level of 9-10 mg/L is considered very good; at levels of 4 mg/L or less, some fish and macroinvertebrate populations begin to decline.

          • The Hach Chemical Company suggests that a dissolved oxygen content of 4-5 mg/L is considered borderline for aquatic life over extended periods of time. Sportfish populations require 8-14 mg/L and good fishing waters generally average 9 mg/L. At less than 3.0 mg/L, bottom-feeding fish (suckers) will die. While northern pike require at least 6.0 mg/L in the summer, these fish can get by with as little as 3.1 mg/L in the winter.

          • The 1999 Canadian Water Quality Guidelines (CWQG) for the Protection of Aquatic Life suggest that total oxygen concentrations for freshwater should be 5.5-9.5 mg/L.

          • According to "Stream Analysis and Fish Habitat Design", sportfish have differing requirements for dissolved oxygen at different temperatures:
            Fish SpeciesTemperature°CMinimal Dissolved Oxygen mg/LOptimal Dissolved Oxygen mg/L
            Brown troutcolder than 15
            warmer than 15
            at least 3
            at least 5
            more than 7
            more than 9
            Pikewarmer than 151 
            Rainbow trout15less than 3 is lethal7
          • "Save Our Streams" states that trout need at least 6 mg/L at all times to function normally. At less than 3 mg/L, the water is considered oxygen poor.

          • The FEESA "Aquatic Invertebrate Monitoring Program" states that 4-5 mg/L is the minimum value necessary to support aquatic life.

        • Review Quiz

          Try answering the following review questions. If you have trouble, all the answers can be found by re-reading the previous section.

          1. What two abiotic factors can affect the comparison of dissolved oxygen (DO) results?

          2. What is the possible range of DO values?

          3. What is the minimum DO concentration necessary to support aquatic life?

          4. What is the DO concentration preferred by warm-water fish like pike?

          5. What is the DO concentration preferred by cold-water fish like trout?

    • pH

      HACH Phenol Red Test Kit pH range 6.5-8.5


      WARNING: The chemicals in this kit may be hazardous to the health and safety of the user if inappropriately handled. Please read all warnings carefully before performing the test and use appropriate safety equipment.

      1. Place the test kit on the ground in a safe, dry place
      2. Fill the two glass test tubes up to the 5-ml mark with river water
      3. Wear goggles and gloves. Add four drops of Phenol Red Indicator Solution to one test tube and swirl to mix. This is the prepared sample.
      4. Insert the test tube with the prepared sample solution into the inside hole on top of the black colour comparator box.
      5. Insert the test tube with the untreated sample water into the outside hole on top of the black colour comparator.
      6. Hold the colour comparator up to the sky or sun and look through the two openings in the front. Rotate the colour wheel until a colour match is obtained. Read the number on the colour wheel scale.
      7. Have another person try matching the colours and then read the number scale. Agree on the best value. Record the result on the data sheet.
      8. Clean-up by pouring the colored prepared solution into the pH Waste Bottle. Use the clear untreated sample water to rinse the prepared test tube and add this to the waste bottle.

      A Guide for Interpreting pH Levels

      RangepHRiver Water QualityRiver Ecosystem
      High8.5 - 14PoorUnhealthy
      Medium6.5 - 8.5GoodHealthy
      Low1 - 6.5GoodUnhealthy

      The pH is used to measure the relative acidity of solutions such as water.

      Solution with a pH greater than 7.0 is considered to be basic or alkaline. The greater the pH, the greater the alkalinity.

      Distilled water has a pH of 7.0. This is considered neutral.

      Solutions with a pH level less than 7.0 are considered to be acidic. The lower the pH, the more acidic the solution.

      A pH range of 6.5 - 8.5 is often considered safe for fish and aquatic invertebrates.

    • Nitrogen

      HACH Test Kit Amonia Nitrogen Range 0-3 mg/L

      WARNING: The chemicals in this kit may be hazardous to the health and safety of the user if inappropriately handled. Please read all warnings carefully before performing the test and use appropriate safety equipment.

      1. Place the test kit on the ground in a safe, dry place.
      2. Fill two glass test tubes to the 5-ml mark with river water
      3. Wear goggles and gloves. Add three drops of Nessler Reagent to one test tube and swirl to mix. This is the prepared sample.
      4. Let the solution stand 10 minutes but no longer than 25 minutes. If ammonia nitrogen is present, a yellow colour will develop.
      5. Insert the test tube with the prepared sample water into the inside hole on top of the black colour comparator.
      6. Insert the test tube with the untreated sample water into the outside hole on top of the black colour comparator.
      7. Hold the colour comparator up to the sky or sun and look through the two openings in the front. Rotate the colour wheel until a colour match is obtained. Read the number on the colour wheel scale.
      8. Have another person try matching the colours and then read the number scale. Agree on the best value. Record the result on the data sheet.
      9. Clean-up by pouring the colored prepared solution into the Amonia Nitrogen Liquid Waste Bottle. Use the clear untreated sample water to rinse the prepared test tube and add this to the waste bottle.
      A Guide for Interpreting pH Levels
      Ammonia Nitrogen Concentrationsmg/LRiver Water QualityRiver Ecosystem
      Low1.0 or lessExcellentHealthy
      Medium1.0 - 3.0GoodBorderline Healthy
      High3.0 - 5.0FairUnhealthy
      Extreme5.0 or greaterPoorVery Unhealthy

      Adapted from "Field Manual for Global Low-Cost Water Quality Monitoring"

      The Canadian Water Quality Guidelines (CWQG) for the Protection of Aquatic Life suggest that total ammonia concentrations for freshwater should be no more than 1.3-2.2 mg/L.

    • Phosphorus

      Simply put, phosphorus makes life on earth possible. It is an important plant fertilizer and animals require it for:

      • bones
      • teeth
      • blood plasma
      • cell chemistry
      • genetic material

      Phosphorus is normally present in rivers at low concentrations. Too much dissolved phosphorus can set off a chain of undesirable events:

      • Extra phosphorus increases the growth of aquatic plants and algae.
      • Bacteria eventually decompose the dead plant material.
      • Decomposition removes dissolved oxygen from the water.
      • Fish die if dissolved oxygen drops to critical levels.

      High levels of dissolved phosphorus are an indicator of pollution. Pre-packaged chemistry kits can be used to measure the concentration of dissolved phosphorus. Excessive phosphorus can enter a river from two major sources:

      • sewage effluent from towns and cities
      • storm water that drains from streets and agricultural land

      An understanding of basic phosphorus science can help interpret data collected from local rivers. Click below to learn more about phosphorus and its affects on aquatic ecosystems!

      • Phosphorus Background Information
      • The Effects of Increased Phosphorus

        Phosphorus occurs most commonly bonded with oxygen atoms to form a phosphate. Phosphates are essential chemicals found naturally in all living organisms, soil and water. For example, bones contain calcium phosphate.

        Surface water supports the growth of microscopic floating organisms called plankton. One type of plankton is algae. The growth of algae and aquatic plants requires phosphates.

        Humans use phosphates in dental cements, water softeners, detergents, rust proofing and processed foods. Phosphoric acid is used in cola soft drinks. Dicalcium phosphate is a food supplement for cattle. Calcium phosphate is an ingredient in plant fertilizers.

        • What is phosphorus?

          Phosphorus is a chemical element identified with the symbol (P). It was discovered in 1669 by the German chemist Henning Brand who prepared it from urine samples.

          Phosphorus is the 11th most abundant element in the earth's crust and the second most abundant mineral in the human body. Foods containing high amounts of phosphorus include dairy products, eggs, fish, dried fruit, meat, garlic, nuts and whole grains. North Americans ingest about 1500 milligrams of phosphorus daily, which is almost twice the recommended allowance.

          Phosphorus combines readily with oxygen to form oxides, phosphates and a mineral called apatite. The phosphorus required by living things is combined with oxygen and called a phosphate (PO4-3). Phosphates are found dissolved in water (inorganic phosphates) and within living tissue (organic phosphates).

        • How is phosphorus cycled through ecosystems?

          There are two main processes occurring in all ecosystems - energy flow and material cycling. Phosphorus is cycled between living organisms and the earth's crust as energy flows through a food web.

          Phosphorus in Living Organisms

          In aquatic ecosystems, the short-term cycling of phosphorus is through the food web of living organisms.

          • Plants absorb inorganic phosphates through their roots and convert them into organic phosphates.
          • Animals obtain their phosphorus by eating plants or other animals. Animals excrete inorganic phosphorus in urine.
          • Bacteria decompose dead plants and animals and then release inorganic phosphorus back into the environment to continue the cycle.

          Phosphorus in the Earth's Crust

          During the long-term cycling of phosphorus in the Earth's crust, phosphorus leaches out of soil and weathers out of rock. This inorganic phosphorus flows downstream and eventually accumulates at the bottom of rivers, lakes and oceans.

          If left undisturbed for millions of years, bottom sediments transform into phosphorus-containing rock.

          "Stored" phosphorus may return again to the surface during the uplifting of mountains, during the mining of potash or when bottom sediments are disturbed.

          The phosphorus cycle starts again as water erodes the uplifted phosphorus rock.

          The Phosphorus Cycle

          Phosphorus moves between plants, animals, bacteria, rock, soil and water. This is called a biogeochemical cycle. Three natural processes contribute to this cycling of phosphorus - food webs, decomposition and the rock cycle.

        • Review Questions

          Try answering the following review questions. If you have trouble, all the answers can be found by re-reading the previous section.

          1. Where is phosphorus found in the human body?

          2. What foods give people their dietary phosphorus?"

          3. Describe two types of phosphate.

          4. What microscopic organism keeps the phosphorus cycle operating?

          5. Describe three natural processes that cause the cycling of phosphorus.

      • Using Phosphorus Test Kits

        The phosphorus in a river is either dissolved in solution or attached to suspended and settled particles. There are special challenges to measuring this phosphorus and there are many kinds of phosphorus test kits to choose from. Click below to learn more about choosing and using phosphorus test kits!

        • Measuring Phosphate Concentrations

          There are several types of phosphorus and each comes with a specialized and recommended test kit. Here are some of the factors to consider when choosing and using a phosphorus test kit.

          Colour Comparator Kits

          Some phosphorus detecting equipment is more appropriate for school use. Colour comparators can be used successfully with school groups.

          • Colour comparator kits are less expensive and last longer with school use.
          • Colour comparator kits are most useful when testing at heavily polluted sites with high phosphorus concentrations above 0.1 mg/L.
          • While they are useful, keep in mind that colour comparator kits introduce a source of error. Picking and matching colours is always subject to some personal judgment, especially at low concentrations.

          Detecting Low Concentrations

          Testing for phosphorus is always challenging because it is often found in very low concentrations of less than 1.0 mg/L. Careful procedures and clean equipment are required to obtain accurate results.

          • Phosphates adsorb or stick to glass, so test tubes and sample bottles should not be cleaned with phosphate detergents!
          • Some test kits use plastic test tubes but these scratch more easily than glass and become hard to see through. Glass test tubes are preferable even though they can be dropped and broken.

          Orthophosphates

          The procedures in all phosphorus test kits eventually finish with the measuring of orthophosphate concentration.

          • This is the type of phosphorus dissolved in water and most readily available to plants.
          • Orthophosphate concentrations may be the best cause-and-effect link to weed growth and algae blooms.

          The orthophosphate test is the easiest phosphorus test to perform and is appropriate for clear rivers carrying low amounts of organic material. This simple test can measure low concentrations of total orthophosphates (PO4-3) in the range of 0 -1 mg/L.

        • Instructions for Using Orthophosphate Test Kits

          The Hach Orthophosphate Kit causes a chemical reaction to occur in a sample of river water. This chemical reaction is evidenced by a colour change and is measured using a colour comparator.

          There is a source of error introduced with this test because of the difficulty in comparing and matching colours. Fainter colours at lower concentrations are hardest to match. Observers should get a second opinion when judging colour matches.

          This test kit uses the contents of one chemical powder packet added to a river water sample.

          WARNING: The chemicals in this kit may be hazardous to the health and safety of the user if inappropriately handled. Please read all warnings carefully before performing the test and use appropriate safety equipment.

          1. Place the test kit on the ground in a safe, dry place.
          2. Fill two square mixing bottles to the 20-ml mark with river water.
          3. Wear safety goggles and gloves to open one powder packet containing PhosVer 3 reagent. Pour the contents into one of the square mixing bottles and swirl to mix. This is the prepared sample. Discard the empty packet into the garbage bag provided.
          4. Let the solution stand 8 but no longer than 10 minutes. If phosphate is present in the sample, a blue-violet colour will develop.
          5. Pour the prepared sample solution into one of the test tubes up to the 20 mL mark. Insert this test tube into the inside hole on top of the black colour comparator box.
          6. Pour the untreated sample water from the second square-mixing bottle into the second test tube up to the 20-mL mark. Insert the test tube into the outside hole on top of the black colour comparator.
          7. Hold the colour comparator up to the sky or sun and look through the two openings in the front. Rotate the colour wheel until a colour match is obtained. Read the number on the colour wheel scale.
          8. Have another person try matching the colours and then read the number scale. Agree on the best value.
          9. Find your colour wheel value on a Phosphate Conversion Chart. Choose the correct low range phosphate concentration. Record this result on your data sheet.
          10. Clean-up by pouring all chemical solutions into the Phosphate Waste Bottle. Use the untreated sample water to rinse the containers and add the rinse solution to the waste bottle.
        • Review Questions and Quiz

          Try answering the following review questions. If you have trouble, all the answers can be found by re-reading the previous section.

          1. What evidence of a chemical reaction is seen during the orthophosphate test?

          2. How many different chemicals are added during the orthophosphate test?

          3. Describe the type of chemical packaging used in the orthophosphate test.

          4. Describe the two types of glass containers used in the orthophosphate test.

          5. Where is the prepared sample placed in a colour comparator?

          6. How is a "colour comparator" used?

          7. How are the wheel numbers converted into low range orthophosphate values?

          8. What is done with the leftover chemicals after the orthophosphate test is finished?

          9. What procedure is used to rinse the glassware?

      • Interpreting Phosphorus Test Results

        Measuring river phosphate levels is one of the important tests of water quality for aquatic life. High levels of dissolved phosphates can indicate poor water quality, pollution and environmental stress.

        Phosphorus is an essential nutrient that is quickly taken up and "stored" by plants and animals. Phosphates "free" in the environment are usually found dissolved in only low concentrations. High amounts of orthophosphate may indicate the presence of chemical fertilizers, polluted storm water run-off, poorly treated sewage or leaking septic systems.

        • The following RiverWatch chart can be used as a guideline for interpreting the orthophosphate concentrations in a river.
          Orthophosphate Concentrationmg/LRiver Water QualityAquatic Ecosystem
          Low0.01 - 0.05GoodHealthy
          Medium0.05 - 0.1FairBorderline healthy
          High0.1 - 10PoorUnhealthy
        • The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has suggested that healthy aquatic ecosystems and the control of algae growth can be achieved with the following guidelines:
        • Consider the following range of phosphorus concentrations when analyzing river data in Alberta:

          0.01 mg/LTotal dissolved phosphorus (orthophosphate) along the length of the Bow River rarely exceeds 0.01 mg/L. Alberta Environmental Protection (AEP) 1995
          0.01 mg/LThe average value of total phosphorus in the Athabasca River at Jasper 1970-1983 and in the Bow River at Cochrane 1985-1990. (Shaw Consulting, 1994)
          0.03 mg/LTotal phosphorus levels above .03 mg/L contributes to increased plant growth.
          0.035 mg/LThe average value of total phosphorus in the North Saskatchewan River at the Alberta/Saskatchewan border 1985-1989. (Shaw Consulting, 1994)
          0.05 mg/LThe Alberta Water Quality Guidelines (AWQG) for total phosphorus is 0.05 mg/L.
          0.091 mg/LThe average value of total phosphorus in the South Saskatchewan River at Medicine Hat 1985-1990. (Shaw Consulting, 1994)
          0.1 mg/LConcentrations of total phosphorus over 0.1 mg/L stimulates plant growth above natural levels and lowers dissolved oxygen levels.
          0.3 mg/LTotal dissolved phosphorus levels of 0.3-0.4 mg/L have been measured below Calgary's wastewater treatment plants. AEP 1995
          0.5 mg/LThe average total phosphorus expelled during the first flush of storm water from outfalls in Calgary (B2, B5, B96) can range from 0.5-1.5 mg/L. City of Calgary Report 1997
          6.7 mg/LTotal dissolved phosphorus levels of 6.7 mg/L were measured below Cochrane's wastewater treatment plant. AEP 1995

      • Phosphorus Review & Quiz

        After reading all the previous information about phosphorus and phosphorus testing, you should be able to answer the following questions. If you have difficulty, all of the answers can be found by re-reading this section or by asking questions.

        1. What are the main forms of phosphorus?

        2. Describe the phosphorus cycle.

        3. What are the major ways that phosphorus gets into rivers?

        4. Describe the chain reaction caused by excessive phosphorus in a river.

        5. What is the general procedure for using an orthophosphate colour comparator?

        6. What would be a good concentration of orthophosphate in a river?

        7. How can phosphorus be kept out of a river?

    Bacteria

    RiverWatch uses the patented Coliscan Easygel method to test for the presence of coliform bacteria. The growth-medium in the bottles contains inhibitors for non-coliform bacteria and pigment colors that identify coliform bacteria.

    Collection

    1. At the river, use a sterile pipette to add 1 mL of sample water to an Easygel bottle. Label the bottle and keep cool. Dispose of the pipette and wrapper.

    Incubation

    1. Back at school, pour all of the Easygel bottle contents into the sterile and coated Petri dish.
    2. Seal the Petri dish shut with clear tape. Label the dish.
    3. If necessary, gently tip the Petri dish to spread the solution evenly.
    4. Incubate at the warmest room temperature available.

    Counting Colonies

    1. After two days of incubation, count the Coliform bacterial colonies:
         pink colonies ...general coliform bacteria that do not necessarily indicate fecal contamination
         purple colonies ...fecal coliforms (E.coli) indicating fecal contamination
         white, etc. colonies ...non-coliform bacteria
    2. Check the colonies against white and black backgrounds to highlight colors.
    3. Counting the total number of pink and purple colonies indicates the number of Coliform bacteria per 1 ml of river water.
    4. Enter your results on-line at www.riverwatch.ab.ca . Click on "River Data & Maps" then "Enter Collected Data from your Trip".

    Disposal

    1. Open the Petri dish and add a capful of bleach to kill the bacteria. Reseal, tape, swirl and allow to sit for five minutes.
    2. Dispose in a plastic garbage bag.

    Rivers have a life cycle much like a living organism. They are born from meltwater and they grow physically larger with each tributary stream that joins their flow. They mature as they pass through different landscapes and add chemical "memories" from each place they visit. They finish their life journey at the oceans and give rise to another generation of rivers through the water cycle.

    Changes in the life and health of a river affect the organisms that live there. Some of these changes occur naturally; some of them are influenced by people. Rivers can be healthy or unhealthy at any stage of their life.

    At some point in the life of a river, they eventually pass through our communities. We can visit briefly before seeing them off again on their journey to the ocean. These visits provide us with the opportunity to ask, "How are you doing?"

    Learning how to monitor river health is a first step in caring for our rivers.

    Why Monitor?

    rivers is affected by the sheer combined impact of so many of us. Just look at everyone who uses rivers - anglers, boaters, dams, industries, agriculture, towns and cities.

    RiverWatch is about using chemical and biological monitoring as a first step in taking care of rivers.

    How can people help care for rivers?

    The First Step

    The first step in taking care of rivers is to become more aware. "Is your river healthy?" How would you know the answer to this question? RiverWatch students help by collecting science data from their local river.

    Good Science

    RiverWatch is real science and students do careful research. They return to school and examine the data for patterns or changes in river health. Their findings are presented in a "State of the River Report".

    Long Term Study

    The science data collected by RiverWatch is important. Each day of observations is added to a database, and the data collected by many students over many years helps identify trends and changes in river health. Each new class of students contributes to a growing understanding of Alberta Rivers.

    Personal Action

    Last but not least, RiverWatch students pitch-in and help rivers through a commitment to positive, personal environmental action. They change the way that they, their family and their community use and enjoy Alberta Rivers!

    "Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."

    --Carl Sagan

    Aquatic Invertebrates

    Viewing wildlife is one of the best things about spending time along a river. Even aquatic invertebrates - the "bugs" living at the bottom of a river - are interesting if you take a close look at them!

    The kinds of invertebrates found in a river can tell you a lot about the water quality. Click below to learn more about aquatic invertebrates!

    Invertebrate Background Information

    The world of aquatic invertebrates is totally unknown to most people. Capturing the tiny "critters" living in a river involves wading in with a net or using specialized equipment. Needless to say, capturing aquatic invertebrates is an unusual activity done mostly by anglers, scientists and science students!

    Click below to learn more about aquatic invertebrate biology!

    • What are Invertebrates?
      • Invertebrates are animals without backbones. They may have hard outer shells to protect and support their soft bodies. They are the most numerous and diverse kind of animal on Earth and they play a critical role in the functioning of ecosystems (ie: pollination, nutrient cycling, food webs). There are several general categories of invertebrates
        • Terrestrial invertebrates live on the land.
        • Marine invertebrates are common along ocean beaches.
        • Aquatic invertebrates live at least part of their life in freshwater ponds, lakes, streams or rivers. Some of the adult insects that we see flying around us have spent their early lives feeding underwater.
        • Macroinvertebrates are species large enough to be seen without using a microscope but they are generally less than 2 cm long.
        • Benthic invertebrates are species that live underwater hiding inbetween bottom rocks and plants or in the mud.
        • The invertebrates that we see in Alberta rivers could be called "aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates"! However, most people just end-up calling them "bugs", "critters" or "inverts".
    • Insect Life Cycles

      Approximately 5% of insects spend all or part of their life cycle in water. The immature stages of these aquatic insects often have streamlined bodies and they breathe with gills.

      There are two types of insect life cycles. Complete metamorphosis includes a larvae and pupaes stage. Incomplete metamorphosis includes only a nymph stage.

      Nymphs

      Nymphs are a feeding stage that look like a small copy of the adult but with wingpads and not wings. Nymphs gradually grow larger by shedding their hard, confining exoskeleton. The last moult is done at the water's surface or out on rocks and plants as their new wings unfold.

      Larvae

      Larvae are a feeding stage that looks like fat grubs or caterpillars. Larvae appear very different from their final winged adult stage. These "ugly ducklings" pupate before changing into beautiful flying adults.

      Pupae

      Pupae are a non-feeding stage much like a moth cocoon or a butterfly chrysalis. During pupation, aquatic larvae "hide-out" and transform into an adult stage with wings. A case or mummy-like covering may protect the pupae.

    • Functional Feeding Groups

      A healthy river has many different invertebrates feeding in many different ways. Diversity is a characteristic of stable, healthy ecosystems. Aquatic invertebrates can be grouped into four functional feeding groups according to how and what they eat:

      Scrapers
      Scrapers are mainly herbivores (plant-eaters). They remove algae, bacteria and fungus growing on the surface of rocks, twigs and leaf debris. Many of these organisms are flattened to better hang onto rocks while they feed in a current. They feed somewhat like a child licking the icing from the top of a cookie.

      Shredders
      Shredders are herbivores that chew on coarse leaves and twigs that have started to decay. This group plays an important role in breaking things down to a size that can be handled by other macroinvertebrates.

      Because these herbivores also consume the nutritious decomposer bacteria and fungi present on the decaying leaves, they are really omnivores. This type of feeding is similar to eating rich peanut butter spread on coarse crackers. Most of the food value is in the spread and not in the cracker!

      Collectors
      Collectors are omnivores that feed on whatever is easiest to find. They gather fine particles that pass by in lowing water (feces, algae, plant and animal fragments) as well as any bacteria attached to this material.

      • Filtering collectors strain particles out of the flowing water with brushes or nets.
      • Gathering collectors obtain dead organic material from the river bottom sediments.

      Predators

      Predators are carnivores that eat small insects, leeches and fish. In turn, these invertebrate predators are often a major food source for other predators such as fish.

    • Aquatic Food Chains

      Energy flows from the sun through plants and then through each trophic level of a food chain. Food chains start with solar energy captured by green plants that use photosynthesis to produce simple sugars. Oxygen produced as a by-product is an added bonus for all animals!

      6CO2+6H2Osunlight
      -->
      plant chlorophyll
      C6H12O6+6O2
      carbon
      dioxide
       water glucose oxygen

      Only about 10% of the energy in one level of a food pyramid is passed along to the next level as food. Energy is used up in growing, repair, finding food, reproduction and heat loss.

    • Review Questions & Quiz

      Try answering the following review questions. If you have trouble, all the answers can be found by re-reading the previous section.

      1. What are invertebrates?
      2. What are aquatic macroinvertebrates?
      3. Describe two different insect life cycles.
      4. Describe four different invertebrate feeding types.
      5. Describe how energy flows through an aquatic food chain.

    Collecting Invertebrates

    Collecting aquatic invertebrates is a fun and interesting activity that can reveal useful information about the health of a river. The presence or absence of certain types of invertebrates can indicate the effects of pollution.

    Collection Sites
    Various invertebrates are adapted for life in areas with different river bottoms and water that may be shallow or deep, fast or slow. Since most observers don't have time to thoroughly sample all these habitats in one trip, a good idea is to focus areas that feature:

    • gravel or rocks
    • shallow water
    • moderate flow velocity

    Consistency

    No one likes wading into mud and becoming stuck, and most people avoid wading into fast water that is deeper than their boots. It's obvious from these limitations that the most common choice for sampling sites will not accurately represent all of the habitats found along the length of a river. But, since different habitats have different invertebrates, it is easier to compare results if the same type of habitat is sampled each time. So, good advice would be to sample each time in shallow, moderately flowing water with gravel or rock bottom in order to provide consistency to a monitoring program.

    Equipment

    Aquatic invertebrates should be captured by observers wearing rubber boots, hip waders or chest waders, especially if there is a concern over cold water, broken glass or sewage contamination.

    Safety should always be the first priority during river monitoring. Observers should wear personal floatation devices (P.F.D.'s) and be under qualified supervision.

    Observers collect invertebrates using equipment such as fine-meshed sweep nets, kick nets, Neill cylinders or deepwater artificial samplers (wire cages filled with rocks).

    • Nets have the advantage of being easy to carry, easy to use and inexpensive to build, however, they don't capture all the invertebrates present at a sample site.
    • Neill cylinders are expensive to buy and they capture an overwhelming number of invertebrates that can take many hours to sort and identify with a microscope back in a lab.

    Using a Kick Net

    Useful invertebrate information can be obtained with a simple kick net, especially if proper procedures are followed.

    Identifying Aquatic Invertebrates

    Aquatic invertebrates all look the same to the untrained eye - strange and bizarre! Honestly, with some background information, even the most reluctant observer can learn to appreciate and identify these truly amazing life forms hiding at the bottom of a river.

    Taking the time to identifying aquatic invertebrates is worthwhile for several reasons:

    • Aquatic invertebrates are interesting and easy to see.
    • Invertebrates are an important part of the food chain.
    • The presence or absence of a particular invertebrate can be an indication of pollution.

    Click below to learn how to identify aquatic invertebrates!

    Invertebrate Taxonomy

    Scientists organize living things into a series of categories. This process is called taxonomy. Taxonomy categories are listed below from largest to smallest along with an example that shows how humans are classified as

    Homo sapiens.

    For quick shoreline and field trip identification, all river organisms can be identified down to the level of phylum, maybe to class, some to orders and only a few to families. Accurate genus and species identification is very complicated and requires the viewing of microscopic features back in a lab.

    There are many thousands of species of invertebrates and it helps to know how they are related to each other. Some of the more common river invertebrates are classified below. Special emphasis is placed on the insects that are commonly seen. Click on the highlighted names for more detailed information.

    Invertebrate Identification

    Shoreline identification and the release of live invertebrates is easily done by merely viewing illustrations.

    Amphipod

    • Crustacean
    • Resemble small shrimp
    • Swims on its' side
    • Swims quickly before burrowing into clumps of vegetation
    • Omnivores and scavengers on plant or animal material
    • Requires well-oxygenated water
    • Moderately tolerant of pollution
    • May indicate fair water quality

    Blackfly Larva

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Blackfly larvae resemble small grubs
    • Head dark coloured
    • Bottom-end swollen and fatter than the head-end
    • Attach to the upper smooth surface of rocks using suckers on the bottom end
    • Heavily populated rocks appear to have a stubble beard
    • Larvae often attach to the bottom of a sorting tray
    • Found in flowing water
    • Omnivores
    • Filtering collectors
    • Pollution tolerant
    • May or may not indicate poor water quality

    Bristleworm

    • Segmented worm
    • Bristleworms esemble thin, reddish earthworms
    • Bristles on each segment are not visible to the unaided eye
    • Can tolerate low oxygen levels
    • Pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate poor water quality
    • May indicate organic pollution

    Caddisfly Larva

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Some larvae build tube-like cases to hide in
    • Larvae resemble caterpillars with skinny legs
    • Mostly herbivorous on algae and plants
    • Some are predators that eat nymphs
    • Some are collectors that build nests
    • Larvae and adults are a favourite trout food
    • Larvae are moderately tolerant of pollution and warm water
    • Large numbers may indicate fair water quality

    Clams and Mussels

    • Mollusc
    • Found in slow moving, warm rivers
    • Clams are small, round and symmetrical
    • Mussels are larger, oblong and lopsided
    • Filter feeders on plankton and organic debris adrift in the current
    • Can tolerate degraded or polluted environments
    • Moderately pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate fair water quality

    Cranefly Larva

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Cranefly larvae resemble plump caterpillars with a knobby butt
    • Larvae are found more often in the fall
    • Herbivorous larvae shred leaf material (shredders)
    • Adults do not feed
    • Adults look like "giant mosquitoes" - what a scary thought, but they don't bite
    • Moderately pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate fair water quality

    Damselfly Nymph

    • Insect
    • Incomplete metamorphosis
    • Nymphs have three paddle-shaped tails
    • Extendable lower lip is used to grab prey
    • Predatory on mayfly nymphs and mosquito larvae, worms and anything else small enough to grab
    • Moderately pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate fair water quality

    Diving Beetle

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Large diving beetles are fun to discover
    • Breaths air from a "scuba tank" air bubble trapped under the wing covers
    • Found in water both as adults and larvae
    • Strong swimmers
    • Carnivorous on larvae and small fish
    • Adults are not useful as an indicator of water quality because they breathe from surface air bubbles

    Dragonfly Nymph

    • Insect
    • Incomplete metamorphosis
    • Nymphs are large, ferocious creatures
    • Jet-powered butts squirt water for propulsion
    • Lip is hinged and extendable to capture prey
    • Nymphs express huge attitude with a large lower lip
    • Predatory on larvae, nymphs, tadpoles and small fish
    • Carnivorous - there's something scary about an insect that can eat a fish!
    • Adults don't fold their wings; the wings lay flat and outspread
    • Found in slow moving and still water
    • Moderately pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate fair water quality

    Flatworm

    • Small, pale blobs found in the vegetation or under rocks.
    • Omnivorous on living or dead plants and animals.
    • Old science textbooks are full of drawings that show flatworms growing two heads. What mad scientist would split those heads in half in the first place? Doesn't that hurt, or at least result in a "splitting" headache?
    • Pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may indicate poor water quality

    Leech

    • Segmented worm
    • Leeches are fun to watch swimming or inching along the glass of an aquarium.
    • Parasitic on the blood of fish and birds.
    • Pollution tolerant.
    • Large numbers may indicate poor water quality.

    Mayfly Nymph

    • Insect
    • Incomplete metamorphosis
    • Three long tails
    • Feathery gills are located along sides of the abdomen
    • Diverse body types - flat, armoured, short or long and skinny and are adapted for different flow conditions
    • Mainly herbivorous on algae and detritus.
    • Nymphs require clean, oxygenated water.
    • Pollution intolerant.
    • Large numbers likely indicate good water quality and high oxygen levels.

    Midge Larva

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Larvae occur in astronomical numbers and dominate many aquatic samples
    • Some larvae have red blood
    • Larvae resemble a short worm
    • "C-shaped" and swim by flexing rapidly
    • Appear to have no legs
    • Omnivores feeding on small organisms, decaying matter and algae
    • Pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers may or may not indicate poor water quality and organic enrichment

    Roundworm

    • Roundworms are tiny worms that seem to thrash aimlessly in the water.
    • Hair-like rather than round as their name suggests.
    • Reproduce in astronomical numbers.
    • Decomposers feeding on decaying plant material.
    • Pollution tolerant.
    • Large numbers may indicate poor water quality and water polluted with nutrients and organic material.

    Snail

    • Mollusc
    • Herbivores that feed on algae scraped from stones and leaves
    • Detritivores that feed on decaying matter
    • Browse by means of a radula - a ribbon-like tongue embedded with thousands of "teeth" - scraped along rocks or leaves
    • Lung-breathing snails have shells coiled like a tuba or spiral shells opening on the left side without a door. (Lung = Left) They obtain air from above the water's surface and therefore are not as sensitive to pollution and are not really good indicators of water quality
    • Gill-breathing snails have spiral shells opening on the right side with a door (operculum). They rely on oxygen dissolved in the water and may be more susceptible to pollution
    • Pollution tolerant
    • Large numbers of lunged snails may indicate poor water quality and organic enrichment
    • Large numbers of gilled snails may indicate good water quality

    Water Boatman

    • Insect
    • Complete metamorphosis
    • Are water boatman the cutest little bugs, or what?
    • Can fly or swim
    • Adults fly in search of deeper water for breeding and overwintering.
    • Swarms of these swimming insects blacken shallow water in the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton each fall.
    • Omnivorous and feed on algae, detritus, micro-animals, small midge and mosquito larvae.
    • Found in all types of water, moving or still.
    • Boatman "scuba dive" with an air bubble trapped on their body.
    • Not necessarily useful as indicators of water quality because the adults breathe surface air.

    Stonefly Nymph

    • Insect
    • Incomplete metamorphosis
    • Can be very large
    • Great to find but kind of scary looking with armour and big legs
    • Most are herbivores feeding on decomposing leaves coated in bacteria and fungus
    • Two long tails and antennae
    • They do push-ups to move water past the "arm-pit" gills
    • Leave their dry, shed skins attached to dry rocks
    • Found in deeper, faster water
    • Very pollution intolerant
    • Indicate good water quality with high oxygen levels

    Interpreting Invertebrate Data

    Aquatic invertebrates are living indicators of pollution levels. The numbers and types of invertebrates in a river change if pollution is present. Invertebrate data can serve as a quick check of water quality.

    A survey of invertebrate populations can reveal information about the health of a river. However, the data may have limited value if collected on only one day of one season in one year. Data is more useful if it can reveal trends spanning an entire season, an entire year, several years or along the length of an entire river.

    • Types of Pollution

      Pollution is any substance that has a negative effect on living things. There are several categories of pollution including sediment, toxic chemicals, warm water and organic nutrients.

      Sediment Pollution

      Particles that wash into a river may originate from street runoff during storms or during spring snowmelt. Sediment can also originate from construction areas, trampled banks or flood events.

      • Measuring the turbidity (clarity) of the water can serve as a test for sediment pollution.

      Sediment pollution does damage when suspended particles gradually settle over the river bottom. The effects of sediment pollution can include:

      • reduced number of invertebrates and invertebrate types
      • smothering and killing fish eggs, algae and invertebrates
      • murky water that blocks sunlight for photosynthesis
      • rocks and plants covered in silt

      Toxic Pollution

      Chemicals that are harmful to life can originate from storm sewer outlets, water treatment plants, factories, rail yards, lawns, golf courses and mines. These chemicals can include paint, diesel fuel, chlorine, oil, acid, pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals.

      • Analysis of invertebrate data can serve as a measure of toxic pollution. Testing for specific toxins is usually beyond the scope of school and public monitoring programs.

      The effects of toxic pollution can include:

      • reduction or absence of all types invertebrates
      • water appears clear and clean

      Thermal Pollution

      Human activities can return warm water to a river. Sources of thermal pollution can include power plants, wastewater treatment plants, fish hatcheries and oil refineries.

      • Recording changes in water temperature can document thermal pollution.

      The effects of thermal pollution can include:

      • increased water temperatures
      • increased plant growth
      • slowing of river velocity because of planet growth
      • fewer kinds of invertebrates
      • large numbers of pollution tolerant invertebrates
      • lower dissolved oxygen levels

      Organic Nutrient Pollution

      Too much of a good thing can be harmful to life. While nutrients are necessary - like nitrogen and phosphorus - too much can result in massive algae and plant growth. Excessive plant growth can be followed by oxygen depletion as dead plant material decomposes and bacteria uses oxygen. Lower oxygen levels can result in fish kills.

      Organic nutrients can originate with human and livestock wastes, feedlots, meat packing plants, sewage and fertilizer runoff from yards and farms.

      • Invertebrate data can be used along with testing nitrogen and phosphorus levels to measure of organic nutrient pollution.

      The effects of organic pollution can include:

      • fewer kinds of invertebrates
      • large numbers of pollution tolerant invertebrates
      • an increase in collectors and scrapers such as caddisfly larvae or roundworms
      • unpleasant odours
      • rocks covered in algae
      • excessive weed growth
      • high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus
      • lower oxygen levels
    • Invertebrate Pollution Tolerance

      Caged canaries were once taken deep inside coal mines to alert the miners of deadly, odourless gases. If a canary died in its cage, it was time for the miners to quickly evacuate to the surface.

      In a similar way, benthic (bottom dwelling) invertebrates can indicate the presence of pollution in a river. Some invertebrates are very sensitive to pollution and quickly die off.

      Invertebrates are good "bio-indicators" of pollution for several reasons:

      • Invertebrates are basically stationary even though the river is constantly moving past them. The impact of any pollution can be seen in the surviving organisms long after all traces of a chemical have been washed away.
      • Invertebrates have a relatively long life cycle of one to three years. They are available to measure pollution over long periods and at low concentrations.
      • If scrapers or collectors become more common, they may be an indicators of organic nutrient pollution and increased algae growth.
      • If the water quality has been impacted by pollution, it will be home only to those invertebrate species that are tolerant of pollution and these may be present in very great numbers.

      It should be noted that surface-breathing invertebrates such as water striders, lunged snails and adult beetles do not depend on dissolved oxygen and therefore have limited use as bio-indicators of pollution. They may be able to live in oxygen poor water by breathing with surface air.

      "Chemical measurements are like taking snapshots of the ecosystem, whereas biological measurements are like making a videotape."

      - Professor David M. Rosenberg
      University of Manitoba

    • Pollution Tolerance Index

      Invertebrates can be assigned to three groups depending on their tolerance to organic nutrient pollution. In this way, the presence or absence of a particular invertebrate is a bio-indicator of water quality.

      After collecting, identifying and counting invertebrate samples, the results can be checked against the pollution tolerance index. A majority of invertebrates tending falling into any one category will indicate a certain level of water quality.

      Organic Pollution Tolerance Index

      For Aquatic Macroinvertebrates
      Decreasing Pollution Tolerance --->
      Pollution Tolerant
      Moderately
      PollutionTolerant

      Pollution Intolerant
      Increasing Water Quality --->
      Presence in great numbers may indicate poor water quality but can be found in any type of water
      Presence in great numbers may indicate fair water quality
      Presence in great numbers may indicate good water quality
      blackfly larvae
      bristleworms
      clams
      flatworms
      leeches
      midge larvae
      round worms
      lunged snails
      amphipods
      caddisfly larvae
      cranefly larvae
      dragonfly nymphs
      damselfly nymphs
      gilled snails
      mayfly nymphs
      stonefly nymphs

      Keep in mind the following points when using this pollution tolerance index:

      • Organic nutrient pollution refers to higher concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen. This index does not reflect the effects of toxic chemical pollution.
      • Benthic invertebrate populations are most useful as pollution indicators during periods of stable water flow. Large increases in river flow may cause an unusual scour that results in areas being washed clean of invertebrates.
      • Invertebrates are most sensitive to pollution during the summer when high temperatures and low river flows are already causing environmental stress. Fish may also die under these stressful conditions.
    • Seasonal Considerations

      The numbers and types of invertebrates can change according to the seasons without any relationship to pollution. When analyzing invertebrate data, keep in mind these seasonal considerations:

      Spring

      • Unusual scouring by high water flows, ice dams or truck loads of snow dumped into rivers may cause a decrease in invertebrate populations.
      • Spring invertebrates tend to be easier to see, easier to count and easier to identify because of their low numbers and large size.

      Autumn

      • Rivers are shallow in the autumn, making it easier for people to wade-in and collect invertebrates.
      • Reproduction over the summer gives rise to higher invertebrate populations.
      • Invertebrate samples collected in the autumn tend to contain higher numbers of organisms.
      • Autumn immature insects are smaller and more difficult to identify.
    • River Characteristics

      The characteristics of a river can change naturally without the influence of human activity or pollution. River characteristics can affect invertebrate populations without necessarily indicating the occurrence of organic pollution. When analyzing invertebrate data, keep in mind the effects of these river characteristics:

      • Rivers tend to age or mature naturally as they flow toward the ocean from cold mountain headwaters and out across the warm prairies.
      • Generally, the downstream sections of a river become warmer, slower, deeper, more nutrient-rich, more turbid and muddier. Some invertebrates prefer warm water.
      • Downstream sections of a river are more likely to support organisms typical of fair or poor water quality.
      • The type of river bottom (substrate) can affect the numbers and types of invertebrates. Rivers with muddy bottoms are more likely to support organisms typical of fair or poor water quality.

      So, how do you tell if "older" rivers are polluted? That's a good question! The answer probably lies in evaluating a number of factors such as bacteria and surrounding land-use.

    • Drawing Conclusions

      After collecting, identifying and counting aquatic invertebrate samples, graphing the results will help illustrate differences or changes.

      Differences in the graphed invertebrate data may be caused by the time of day, the season, the type of bottom substrate or by pollution. Were the differences natural or the result of human impact?

      The following questions may help with the analysis of invertebrate data:

      • How much of the river was affected?
      • Were differences measured on both sides of the river?
      • Were all organisms affected or just specific types?
      • Were the differences related to the seasons?
      • Did each sample site have the same type of substrate and flow rate?
      • Were the invertebrates sampled with the same type of equipment and care?
      • Is there any chemical data corresponding to the invertebrate changes?
      • Were there any unusual smells detected in the area?
      • Did previous sampling, floods or snow dumps disturb the study site?
      • How is the surrounding land being used?
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