Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Stroud Water Research Center: Teen's Experiment To Monitor Local Water Quality Wins At Science Fair

By Diane Huskinson,
Stroud Water Research Center

This article appeared first in the latest Stroud UpStream newsletter--

Before embarking on her science fair project, Maggie Auman, an eighth-grade student at Lancaster Country Day School, had always assumed the freshwater streams in her community were healthy.
“A stream’s health is not always evident to the bare eye,” explains Maggie. That’s true, at least when one doesn’t know what to look for. But soon, her eyes were opened.  

For two years, Tara Muenz, Mandy Nix, and Lamonte Garber helped her develop a hypothesis and investigate water quality using one of Stroud™ Water Research Center’s signature teaching tools, the Leaf Pack Stream Ecology Kit.

Originally designed as a research tool by the Stroud Center’s first director, Robin Vannote, the packs are made of leaves collected from native trees within a local watershed that are then dried, placed in mesh bags, and tied to a rock or tree trunk in a stream. 

When the packs are retrieved several weeks later, freshwater insects and other critters that eat the leaves can be found within the packs and then sorted, identified, and counted to assess water quality. 

A lack of pollution-sensitive species like mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies is an indication the stream isn’t healthy enough to support them.

Maggie deployed the packs into three streams within the Schuylkill River watershed. After three weeks, she plucked the soggy packs out of the streams, took them apart, and with great anticipation and some help from Stroud Center educators, she began what she says felt like a treasure hunt.

“The Stroud Center’s guidance and support helped me really understand and grasp the many different parts of the experiment,” Maggie says. “The setup of the experiment seemed quite intimidating at first, but with Tara and Mandy to help me understand what leaves are native to the area, the importance of the biotic index, and how to properly search the packs for macroinvertebrates, I went through the experiment with confidence and excitement.”

In looking at the species and numbers of bugs that had been feasting on the leaves, she was able to assign each of the streams a biotic index score. 

What she discovered was that one stream had excellent water quality and the other two had moderate water quality. 

The experiment supported her hypothesis that the leaf packs provided a simple, effective, and inexpensive method for people to monitor the health of their local streams.

“For my whole life, I had looked at streams within my community very similarly, assuming that they were all very healthy. My finding surprised me and taught me that the clean water in my community is more limited than I thought,” says Maggie, adding that she has a new appreciation for and understanding of streams as habitat. “My stream study opened my eyes to a whole new world of life going on within streams. I learned that in the stream, even in the coldest parts of winter when it seems like the water would be too cold to manage, there is abundant life.”

Maggie entered her project, “Leaf Pack = Macroinvertebrate Snack,” into the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair for middle school and high school students in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. 

She won first place in the life science category.

Maggie’s father, Tod Auman, recalls how excited and happy she was not only because she won but also because her project brought attention to the health of streams. “After many months of very hard work, she was rewarded.”  

“The Stroud Center taught me that even though I am still a young student, I can be an advocate for our streams and make a huge beneficial difference in my community,” said Maggie.

More From Newsletter

The Stroud newsletter also features articles on--

-- Meet Stroud’s 2022 Summer Interns

-- Stroud Center Partners Named Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers

-- How Federal Clean Water Act Changed The Trajectory Of America’s Waterways

-- Stroud Center Work Tied To New U.S. Foreign Policy On Water Security

Upcoming Events

-- September 21: What’s The Ecological Status Of The Schuylkill River?

-- September 29: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

-- November 3: Stroud Award For Freshwater Excellence Gala

Click Here to read the entire newsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy.

For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Stroud Water Research Center website, Click Here to subscribe to UpStream.  Click Here to subscribe to Stroud’s Educator newsletter.  Click Here to become a Friend Of Stroud Research,  Like them on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and visit their YouTube Channel.

The Chester County-based Stroud Center seeks to advance knowledge and stewardship of freshwater systems through global research, education, and watershed restoration.

[Posted: July 26, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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