Testing waters: Anyone can join Izaak Walton League’s Clean Water Hub data gathering on water quality

Testing waters: Anyone can join Izaak Walton League’s Clean Water Hub data gathering on water quality

Zach Moss demonstrates a test strip during a presentation on water testing for Save Our Streams during a meeting of the Illinois Division Izaak Walton League of America at Giant Goose Conservation and Education Workshop. | Dale Bowman

Anyone, kids on up, can join in the Izaak Walton League’s Clean Water Hub data gathering on water quality.

ATKINSON, Ill.—Zach Moss spread out his water-testing kit, his “Bag of Goodies,” with joy on a table in back of the pavilion at Giant Goose Conservation and Education Workshop.

His enthusiasm reminded me of my middle school science teacher taking our class on the first Earth Day to test the Pequea Creek. Back then, phosphates were out of control, even on country creeks.

Moss, Save Our Streams coordinator for the Izaak Walton League of America, was presenting on water monitoring at the fall director’s meeting of the Illinois Division of the IWLA. Division president Charlie Palmgren invited me to see it.

I mentioned my science teacher, the late William Chronister, because water testing is a perfect activity, especially during a pandemic, for science teachers, home-schoolers, and Scout and youth group leaders.

“Chemical monitoring can be done by anybody,” Moss said. “Kids like to do it and it is relatively easy to do.”

The IWLA is trying to get more chapters involved in monitoring.

Before the meeting, Moss demonstrated the field test kit, which runs about $270 before taxes and shipping. It includes tests for dissolved oxygen, pH, chloride, phosphate, nitrogen (nitrate and nitrite), transparency (sediment) and water temperature.

The nitrate test strip reminded me of staring at pregnancy test strip years ago. The chloride test largely measures the impact of road salt (sodium chloride). Another IWLA program is Winter Salt Watch.

I was happy for a reason to visit Giant Goose, a collection of reclaimed strip pits. Last Saturday was perfect for barreling nearly the length of Interstate 80 in Illinois. A pair of Canada geese, maybe distant descendants of the site namesakes, swam near the entrance as I drove in.

I enjoyed the discussions before Moss’ presentation, especially from legislative advocate Dean Farr on state-level matters and Tim Wagner, agriculture outreach coordinator for the IWLA, with a national perspective. He touched on why Illinois’ CREP funding is stalled and hopes for Kankakee River work (a story that drags on decade after decade).

Division treasurer Luann Noll gave an update on the Illinois Division hosting the 100th IWLA National Convention July 19-22, 2022. The IWLA was founded in Chicago in 1922.

After the lunch, Moss pulled a water sample from the nearest lake to demonstrate the kit. Normally a group would walk along or into the water to sample it.

IWLA has a long history of stream monitoring, which involves volunteer training. The advantage of the water testing is that virtually anyone can do it and enter the data.

Monitoring aquatic macroinvertebrates (“stream bugs”) is a better way to document long-term water health. Water testing is a snapshot of the moment. A chemical spill, for instance, might not show up in water testing, but it would show up in impact on macroinvertebrates.

Normally, Moss works streams. Water testing has several purposes. Probably most important is establishing a baseline and may be done twice a year or more. Gung-ho sorts may monitor after weather or other events.

One of the first things Moss does is to rinse collecting equipment so residue on equipment doesn’t skewer readings.

In terms of technical advice, he said the turbidity test should be done first, before stirring up the water. That test is done with a long tube with a sort of mini black-and-white Secchi Disk at the bottom.

Saturday, he could not take temperature because his thermometer had bubbles. It was broken.

Clarity was the entire length of the tube, so at least 60 centimeters, very good. The pH test came in at 8, slightly base (7 is neutral). Nitrogen tests were 0. The DO was 6, pretty good for a lake. Phosphate was also a 0. Chloride was at 89, up a little.

If groups want to do a less intensive or expensive testing, Moss suggested the nitrogen, phosphates and DO tests.

“Those will be impactful on your fish,” he said.

The Clean Water Hub, which houses the water-testing data, is at cleanwaterhub.org. It is publicly accessible and anyone can create an account, you don’t need to be an IWLA member.

The IWLA’s site on stream monitoring, including the Creek Critters app, is at iwla.org/water/stream-monitoring/. Winter Salt Watch is at IWLA.org/SaltWatch/. More on the Illinois Division is at sites.google.com/site/illinoisdivision/.

A pair of Canada geese swim at the entrance to Giant Goose Conservation Education and Workshop. Credit: Dale BowmanDale Bowman
A pair of Canada geese swim at the entrance to Giant Goose Conservation and Education Workshop.

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