Texas Stream Team: A Citizen Science Program
What’s in your water? Ask your Vanguard environmental science students! This year, Vanguard’s environmental science class started participating in a statewide citizen science program called Texas Stream Team. Texas has approximately 191,000 miles of waterways, which is an incredible challenge for the state environmental regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), to monitor. Citizen Science programs around the globe are designed to allow non-scientists to contribute to scientific research in a widespread and meaningful manner. Vanguard’s (and other citizens’) participation in Texas Stream Team allows the state to conduct water quality sampling across Texas at a broader scale than would be possible without these citizen volunteers. Texas Stream Team uses the data that is collected for research, education, identifying pollution problems, and helping local entities with decision-making.
Monitoring water quality across the state on such a broad scale is critical because it allows researchers and entities to make informed decisions regarding water quality. Water pollution can be categorized in one of two ways: point and nonpoint source pollution. Each of these pollution types can negatively affect drinking water quality or stream habitat for wildlife. Point source pollution comes from easily identifiable sources – a wastewater plant releasing untreated effluent or factory pipes releasing a contaminated substance. Nonpoint source pollution is more difficult to identify and is associated with wider scale surface runoff – as rainwater runs over various surfaces and into waterways, it may collect soil particles, oil from cars, and pesticides from lawns. The broad-scale monitoring that Texas Stream Team provides can help identify surface water that is experiencing water quality concerns from either point or non-point source pollution. Managers and entities can then use the data to make informed decisions about how to manage and improve water quality across an entire watershed or in local areas of concern.
Volunteers involved with Texas Stream Team are trained and certified to conduct various water quality measurements using a standardized monitoring kit. Volunteers measure both physical and chemical parameters of the water, including pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity (an indirect measurement of total dissolved solids), water clarity, temperature, the presence of aquatic life, and other field observations. Volunteers monitor their site once every month at approximately the same time to minimize variations in data due to daily physical and chemical fluctuations in the water.
Every month, Vanguard environmental science students travel down to Koehne Park on Lake Waco to conduct water sampling for Texas Stream Team. Monitoring is supposed to occur during ambient conditions (unless there is flooding), so we sample during wind, rain, or sunshine! All participating students have been trained in how to collect data for all required parameters, and they diligently work during each visit to collect high-quality data. With all of the students involved, sampling typically takes 45-60 minutes.
Shown in the photo to the left is the testing kit used to conduct water quality measurements for Texas Stream Team. Funding to purchase the kit was awarded from the Texas Wildlife Association through the Natural Excellence in Teaching Award.
Students have especially enjoyed using the transparency tube (shown below) to obtain water transparency measurements. To use the transparency tube, the observer fills the 120 cm long tube with sample water. While one individual peers through the tube, another slowly releases water from the bottom of the tube until an odd-shaped pattern called a secci disk is visible to the viewer. At this point, the observer takes note of the water depth in the tube. This metric measures water transparency, the ability for light to penetrate the water, as one indicator of overall water quality. Water transparency is important because it determines the depth of which certain aquatic organisms will be able to survive, and it plays an important role in aquatic organisms’ ability to navigate through the water.
Participating in Texas Stream Team has given Vanguard environmental science students a greater awareness of their local water quality and has shown them the importance of Citizen Science Programs. They have a greater appreciation for various aspects of water quality and can make informed decisions in their future lives and careers to improve water quality. We plan to continue monitoring for Texas Stream Team in environmental science next year.
Left: K.C. England and Luke Chavez working together to fill the transparency tube. Right: The secci disk visible looking through water at the bottom of the transparency tube.
Luke Chavez, Lisa Bull, K.C. England, and Montana Cross working together to conduct pH and dissolved oxygen measurements.
If you would like to learn more about Texas Stream Team, please follow the link below