Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program

What:

Stream Team Volunteers, Sue and Rick Nyce

Missaukee Conservation District began stream monitoring with a class from McBain Northern Christian and the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly. The district wished to expand sampling activities to include more than one site and support citizen scientists in Missaukee County. In 2016, the district applied for and received a start-up grant from Michigan Clean Water Corps to establish its own program! With the support of a few core volunteers, we were then able to apply for and receive the full 2-year grant which began in Fall 2017.  “The Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Survey Grants support volunteer work to monitor benthic macroinvertebrate communities and habitat characteristics in wadeable streams and rivers.”

Our first official monitoring event was held in October of 2017. The data collected from 8 sites was submitted to the MiCorps database where it is made available to local, state, and federal agencies as well as individuals. Our conservation educator spreads the word about watersheds and their important roles through programs offered in classes and libraries, from elementary to high school aged kids.

Why:

Long term monitoring of parameters provides data needed to recognize the status and trends of a stream’s water quality and habitat quality. Monitoring the benthic macroinvertebrate population of a stream is a quick and easy process volunteers can do with only a small amount of training. The data will not necessarily identify specific water quality problems; but it can identify if a problem exists, much like the proverbial canary in a coal mine. Monitoring stream habitat as well as road/stream crossings will help to identify some of the specific problems that cause the macroinvertebrate populations to decline, such as bank erosion, flashy water flow, and degraded riparian zones.

Michigan’s streams number over 4,000 and cover approximately 35,000 miles. Environmental research and data collection is often underfunded and fewer site overall may be sampled if it weren’t for citizen science programs. By offering uniform training across the state, citizen scientists are able to get out in their communities and make a big difference for their surrounding ecosystems, watersheds, and the like. Michigan Clean Water Corps offers programs and trains volunteer stream monitors, lake monitors, road/stream crossing inventories, stream flow monitors, and exotic aquatic plant watch monitors. Visit their website at the link above to learn more. 

Where:

Two watersheds cover Missaukee County: Upper Manistee River and Upper-Central Muskegon River Watersheds. In fall 2017, 8 sites were monitored. Three in the Manistee River Watershed and 5 in the Muskegon River Watershed. Two locations are just over the county line in Wexford County.

How were these sites chosen?

  1. Ease of access: can volunteers easily get to the site and down to the river or stream?
  2. Land access: is the land public or is permission needed to access the locations?
  3. Surrounding lands: is the location, and therefore the river/stream, in danger of becoming degraded due to surrounding land use?

Most sites are accessed via public lands either through state forest lands or road right-of-ways. The Mosquito Creek location is located on the MSU AgBio Research Station lands and accessed thanks to a partnership with staff there. The streams themselves are public lands. Several sites are at road-stream crossings. These locations are at risk because of runoff from the roadway as well as other factors. Two sites are located in high use recreation areas. Each ‘site’ is actually a stretch of 300 feet. The map below shows the current sites:

When:

Volunteers sorting samples, riverside.

Monitoring events are held twice a year–in the spring and fall. The conservation district sponsors the sampling events supplying all necessary equipment and data sheets for volunteers participating in the collection. Volunteers are put into groups of 2-4 and give one or two sampling sites. Volunteers spend 2-3 hours at each site depending on the size of the group and the amount of data collected. Each fall, a habitat assessment is included with data collection.

Dragonfly nymph from Butterfield Creek

After the collection event, an identification event is held. Here, we identify the macroinvertebrates collected from each stream. This gives an idea of the overall health of the streams and looking at all the data across the watershed gives and even larger picture. Identifying problem sites can help watershed managers and local conservation districts develop management and restoration plans.

How:

You need zero experience to become involved with stream monitoring. If you enjoy being outdoors, finding interesting items in the stream bottom, and/or want to become an active citizen scientist, this program is for you! Volunteer commitment is approximately two days a year–four half days; stream training for new volunteers is offered each fall and spring (before sampling events) dependent upon participation. Contact us with questions or to become involved: Kate Nietling, 231.839.7193 or kate.nietling@macd.org.

Special thanks to our community supporters and project sponsors: