Long-term trends revealed in new data monitoring reports

by: Angela Danovi, Arkansas Projects Manager

The 2020 StreamSmart and Beaver Lake Watershed citizen science monitoring reports have been released.  The reports include all monitoring data through the 2019 monitoring year.

StreamSmart Citizen Science Report

This year’s StreamSmart report has been revised to concisely present data for each site. Graphical representations of data for each parameter across all sites allow readers to make comparisons between sites. The data has also been grouped by sub-watershed to easily make comparisons of sites within and between subwatersheds of the Beaver Lake watershed.

Total Phosphorus in Streams

Total Phosphorus Data for StreamSmart sites 2012-2019

Phosphorus is a nutrient we test for in StreamSmart because it is a contributor to algal growth and has the potential to cause harmful water quality conditions. Our 2020 data report reveals Holman Creek downstream of Huntsville to be the only site in the StreamSmart data to have an average total phosphorus above .10mg/L. The remaining 19 sites were below .05 mg/L and indicate they are less likely to have phosphorus concentrations which could cause harmful water quality conditions.

Macroinvertebrates and Stream Health

Data for one parameter do not serve as an exclusive indicator for stream health. Our volunteers have been conducting macroinvertebrate surveys during the spring and summer months as part of the monitoring protocol. One benefit of conducting a macroinvertebrate survey is the organisms that live in the stream serve as a good indicator of water quality because they must live in the environmental conditions where they are. Some macroinvertebrates are more tolerant of poor water quality than others. By conducting macroinvertebrate surveys, stream health is indicated by the presence and composition of the macroinvertebrate population.

To conduct macroinvertebrate surveys, citizen scientists kicked three times across a riffle at their stream. Then they sorted and identified all of the macroinvertebrates (insects, bugs, and crustaceans visible to the naked eye) they collected from the kicks. Macroinvertebrates are scored based on their sensitivity to pollution. Sensitive species are scored 3 points, somewhat sensitive are scored 2 points, and species tolerant of pollution receive 1 point.

Macroinvertebrate composite scores indicate water quality:

  • Excellent > 22
  • Good 17-22
  • Fair 11-16
  • Poor <11

StreamSmart macroinvertebrate survey results show site 306, Prairie Creek below Lake Atalanta Dam, had excellent water quality during the 2019 monitoring season. It was also the only site to exceed an average composite score of 20.

Five sites were found on average to have good water quality based on their macroinvertebrate composite scores:

  • Site 102 – West Fork at Brentwood Park (Upstream of the city of West Fork)
  • Site 303 – Clear Creek in War Eagle Watershed
  • Site 305 – War Eagle at the Mill
  • Site 103 – Baldwin Creek in the headwaters of the watershed
  • Site 300 – Brush Creek, which flows directly to Beaver Lake

The information we learn from the macroinvertebrate survey indicates sites where water quality is good and supports a diverse macroinvertebrate population. Sites with lower composite scores, especially 10 or below, indicate that aquatic environmental conditions are not supporting a diverse macroinvertebrate population. There are many factors that can contribute to low scores, including poor local site conditions which limit macroinvertebrates from populating the specific location. Sites with low scores should be further examined to gain a better understanding of the environmental conditions which could be adversely affecting macroinvertebrate populations and water quality.

Individual Site Trends

Beyond the first few pages of the StreamSmart report, which give us an opportunity to view the data as a whole and compare sites and subwatersheds, each site is given a page where it’s most recent data is made available along with the longer term trends at the site.

Conclusions from Stream Monitoring Report

Overall, we have good water quality in the Beaver Lake Watershed. Sites which show areas of concern are associated with more urbanized areas. Generally riparian zones at those sites are limited and less able to protect the waterway from urban runoff. Urban sites also tend to be more affected by high flows, higher nutrients, and more pollutants. Urban sites also tend to have less macroinvertebrate diversity. Some urban sites, such as prairie creek below Lake Atalanta can be celebrated for supporting diverse macroinvertebrate populations. That site should have increased focus on protecting the riparian zone by promoting native plants, which can protect streambanks, promote habitat and ensure the water quality remains good.

Sites that indicate overall better water quality are in our headwaters, such as the White River near St. Paul (Site 104) and Baldwin Creek (Site 103). These sites illustrate the good water quality we have when impacts to the stream are limited.

Citizen Science Lake Monitoring

The lake monitoring report continues in the same format as previous reports.

Upper White River Basin Featured at Crystal Bridges

by: Angela Danovi, Arkansas Projects Manager

A few years ago while I visiting Crystal Bridges, I came across a beautiful piece of art which depicted our basin, the Upper White River Basin. In a single sculpture, the artist depicted one main idea I have spent the last several years working to share with everyone living in or associated with our watershed: that we are all connected together through water and we all live downstream.

The beauty of this sculpture at Crystal Bridges is that we see the water which connects us and flows through our land. But, we don’t see state lines, county boundaries, cities, or other artificial barriers that we perceive and live with every day, but which are invisible and meaningless to the water.

The sculpture, “Silver Upper White River” by Maya Lin is made from recycled silver and represents the 722 miles of the Upper White River running through Arkansas and Missouri. Beaver Lake is depicted on the far left-hand side of the sculpture with the White River flowing into and forming Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals.

Beaver Lake portion of the sculpture

The descriptive panel with the piece explains that the artist chose the medium of silver because “when Europeans arrived in the Americas, there were so many fish in the streams that the reflections off of their backs gave rise to the term, ‘running silver.'”

In a public conversation held earlier this year with James Steward, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum, Lin was asked to explain why water has been an enduring feature in her artwork. “I’ve always been drawn to a very still use of water,” Lin said. “I’m in love with things that aren’t what you think they’re going to be. I want to ‘still’ the water down until it’s barely moving, and then you engage with the piece. Water has a propensity to be both very powerful and extremely calm. I love the fact that you have a language and materiality that can transform itself completely.”

Photo from Crystal Bridges Blog

It’s hard to capture the size and scale of Lin’s “Silver Upper White River” in a single photograph. The sculpture sits over the museum’s lower pond and can be seen from across the museum through the windows inside Eleven. The next time you are at Crystal Bridges, you can sit at a table in the restaurant and look across the water towards the museum’s lower galleries where you will see this sculpture or you can spend some time walking over to get an artistic birds eye view of our connected water.

Lake Atalanta and Prairie Creek see Phosphorus Reductions

by: Angela Danovi, Arkansas Projects Manager

Since 2012, volunteer citizen scientists have been conducting stream monitoring on Prairie Creek below Lake Atalanta Dam in Rogers with the StreamSmart Program.

Last year when I prepared our annual StreamSmart data report, I was surprised to see that the 2018 total phosphorus concentrations in Prairie Creek had decreased by half compared to 2016 and earlier. But, with only one year of data showing these reductions, I was reluctant to say it was a trend or even notable because with only four samples collected after the park re-opening, the lower total P values in 2018 could have been a coincidence rather than a trend.

Throughout 2019, our volunteer citizen science team continued to monitor Prairie Creek. This year, when I added the 2019 data to the existing dataset, I was excited to find that the lower phosphorus concentrations we had identified in 2018 had sustained throughout 2019 and even into our first monitoring of 2020.

Looking at the graph (above) and then plotting the data into two box plots, I realized there was in fact a noticeable difference in total P concentrations at Prairie Creek below Lake Atalanta Dam since 2018, which aligned with the timeline of the park undergoing the renovation and an extended closure due to the spring 2017 flood.

I wanted to be sure the data from 2012-2017 was actually statistically different from the 2018-2020 data. So, I conducted a statistical test called a t-test and assumed unequal variances between the two datasets. The results showed the means of the two datasets to be statistically significantly different (p-value = 0.0000269). P-values that are less than .05 are generally considered significant.

Looking only at the stream data, I thought one reason Prairie Creek may have decreased total P concentrations since 2018 was because Lake Atalanta had been dredged during the construction and renovations. Therefore, I thought we may find total P concentrations in lake Atalanta to be increasing because of the increased capacity of the lake to capture and retain sediments and particulates. Surprisingly, when I looked at the volunteer lake monitoring data at Lake Atalanta, I found a decreasing total P trend which aligned with the same decreasing total P trend in Prairie Creek below Lake Atalanta Dam, during the same years.

Total Phosphorus Concentrations from volunteer Lake monitoring at Lake Atalanta 2017-2019

Unfortunately, we do not have lake monitoring data prior to the construction and dredging, so we cannot give you the total P concentrations in the lake prior to 2017.

After I identified the two aligned trends, one question arose in my mind: if phosphorus concentrations are decreasing, why does Lake Atalanta seem to have more algae growth during the summer, after the park renovation and lake dredging? I contacted an associate who helped prepare both monitoring reports this year and who is familiar with lake chemistry cycles, Tony Thorpe with the Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program. One explanation he proposed was that prior to the renovation and dredging, Lake Atalanta may have been more turbid, due to the lower amount of time and capacity for sediment to settle out. This could have prevented light from penetrating the water column and prevented algae from growing. After the park renovations, which include a forebay that can capture tons of sediment and other low impact development features that slow sediment movement during rainfall in addition to the lake dredging, it’s possible that clearer water is allowing light to penetrate deeper into the water column, stimulating algae to grow in the lake during the warm summer months.

This is just one possibility as to why Lake Atalanta may have increased algae growth since the renovation. Although the monitoring data does not provide a definite answer or solution to the algae problem at Lake Atalanta, it does show that phosphorus, a major nutrient that stimulates algae growth, has declined over the last two years both in Lake Atalanta and in Prairie Creek. This is a positive trend for the environment and for water quality in Lake Atalanta and downstream.

In addition to the reduced phosphorus concentrations, Prairie Creek has also had consistently high ratings in StreamSmart macroinvertebrate surveys, achieving good and excellent scores in 2019 and rating as the overall highest site and only site exceeding an average composite score of 20 in 2019.

Looking upstream on Prairie Creek towards Lake Atalanta Dam

The overall story for both Prairie Creek and Lake Atalanta in a positive one, with phosphorus declining in both waterways while each is supporting and enhancing the aquatic environment.

Project WET relaunched in Arkansas

by: Angela Danovi, Arkansas Project Manager of Ozarks Water Watch & Sophia Stephenson, Executive Director, Arkansas Environmental Education Association

Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) was formally re-launched in Arkansas at the end of 2019. The Arkansas Environmental Education Association (AEEA) became the new host institution in September. In November, nine new facilitators became certified to provide WET training to teachers and educators.

Project WET is an international network of organizations and individuals dedicated to providing water education to people of all ages. Through partnerships with state agencies, municipal utilities, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations, Project WET is available in all 50 states and over 70 countries. Project WET’s mission is to reach children, parents, teachers and community members of the world with water education that promotes awareness of water and empowers community action to solve complex water issues

Project WET had previously been active in Arkansas; however, the partnership between the national office and the previous state host institution ended a few years ago. This left a gap in training for bothworkshop facilitators and educators who wished to use the materials. The first step for the reintroduction of Project WET through AEEA was conducting a facilitator training. AEEA developed an application form and distributed it to selected educators around the state. From the applications, nine facilitators were chosen, including AEEA director Sophia Stephenson, who now serves as the Project WET State Coordinator.

Project WET facilitators are individuals who are certified to conduct project WET workshops for educators. Facilitators have previously completed a Project WET Educator workshop and generally have used Project WET activities within their own program for at least one year.

The first training for Arkansas Project WET facilitators was held in November at the Boone County Cooperative Extension Service facility. The training was supported by a grant from the Multi-Basin Regional Water Council, an organization that represents Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas; whose mission includes increasing capacity of its members to cooperate on water quality issues and fulfill their respective missions. The day and a half long training was conducted by Project WET co-coordinators from Missouri. The facilitator training included an overview of the project WET Guide 2.0, an introduction to Arkansas state science standards and training on how to use the guide to connect activities to state standards, training on specific project WET activities, and an opportunity for each facilitator in training to lead a specific activity.

The next phase of re-launching Project WET in Arkansas is conducting educator workshops, which are held for classroom teachers, non-formal educators, and staff. Educator workshops are not only beneficial for classroom teachers, but can also serve as a foundation for ecology programs at summer camps and scout groups, educational programs at parks, and would also be beneficial for home-schooled students. Participation in an educator training workshop is open to paid or volunteer educators and staff who use water education materials in their work.

Part of the agreement for individuals chosen to complete the facilitator workshop is they each must conduct one Project WET Educator training workshop in 2020. This ensures their skills are up-to-date and that new educators are receiving training to provide Arkansas students with accurate and scientifically supported water education. Of the nine trained in November, four are able to provide workshops anywhere in the state.The remaining five are focused on a more local level.

In 2020 AEEA expects to conduct another facilitator training. This training will expand the location of trained facilitators as well as strengthen the network of the current facilitators.

If anyone is interested in receiving Project WET Educator training or would like more information about the Project WET program in Arkansas contact Arkansas Project WET coordinator, Sophia Stephenson at [email protected] or call 501.773.1107

Christmas Trees Become Fish Habitat in Beaver Lake

Sinking Christmas trees as fish habitats in a channel off the Arkansas River

As the holiday season draws to a close, you may be looking for a sustainable way to dispose of your live Christmas tree. One option available in Arkansas is to donate your live Christmas tree for fish habitat! The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began the program in 2006 and this year there are multiple drop-off locations across the state to leave your tree for an angler to use in their next brush pile.

Northwest Arkansas Live Christmas Tree Dropoff Locations:

Christmas Tree AGFC dropoff at Hwy 12 access on Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake Dropoff Points:

  • Highway 12 Access
  • AGFC Don Roufa Hwy 412 Access.

Other Northwest Arkansas AGFC Dropoff locations are:

  • Lake Elmdale boat launch in Springdale,
  • Bob Kidd Lake boat ramp access located about 2.0 miles west of Prairie Grove in Washington County,
  • Crystal Lake Boat Ramp Access located off Arkansas Highway 59, northeast of Decatur.

Live Trees are also being accepted at Hook Line and Sinker Outdoor Store located on Hwy 12 at 98 W Locust St (HWY 12), Rogers, AR 72756

Sign on hwy 12 at Hook Line and Sinker

Trees can be dropped off at any of the AGFC locations until the end of January

How does the Christmas Tree Fish Habitat Program work?

Anyone with a real Christmas tree may take it to a drop-off location and leave it near the indicated boat ramp. Anglers may then collect the trees and place them into designated waters to create habitat coverage for fish. The program is similar to the “leave a penny, take a penny” concept. Anyone can drop off their tree, and anyone is welcome to take them to sink their own brush piles. Anglers sinking brush should call ahead to make sure sinking brush is allowed in the body of water where they want to sink the trees. Some water-supply reservoirs and other lakes have regulations to prevent dumping of brush without permission.

In 2018, AGFC devoted a few minutes to their Arkansas Wildlife show to demonstrate how the christmas tree donation program works and how you can build your own fish habitat using Christmas trees:

Why Sink Christmas Trees?

In water bodies lacking structure and depth changes, such as Corps lakes like Beaver Lake or other smaller dammed lakes, baitfish will be heavily scattered. Without refuge, many fish remain inactive most of the day, suspending over deep water. Adding cover provides much needed nutrition for even the smallest of species, and with this the food chain will follow.

As woody plant tissue decomposes, Mother Nature jumpstarts a whole new series of vegetation at the lowest levels of life such as phytoplankton and various algaes. Zooplankton, also known as water fleas, populate and forage on the new vegetation, attracting small insects, mussels, snails, and crayfish who also eat on the phyto and zooplankton. The abundance of life then attracts small, non-predatory fish that eat on the small insects or zooplankton, and the larger, predator species we cherish. Members of the sunfish family, such as largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappies are attracted to submerged trees. Small fishes hide there for protection. Larger fishes may seek protection, or may chase the small fishes that are attracted by it.

Sinking Christmas Trees on the Little Maumelle River in Little Rock, Ark.

For those wishing to donate trees:

  • Only REAL trees may be donated.
  • Remove all ornaments, tinsel, lights and other man-made materials from the trees before dropping them off.
  • Drop off at one of the commission pre-approved locations or check with the owners of the lake or body of water before leaving trees behind.
  • Do not block the boat ramps when donating trees.

For those wishing to sink trees for fish:

  • Always check over trees to make sure that they meet the program requirements.
  • Always check to make sure the location allows habitats to be sunk.
  • Take several trees and tie them together to create a more abundant habitat.
  • Anglers must provide their own cinder blocks and rope. Polyester rope will last longer than cotton rope.
  • Consider adding trees to an existing habitat to rebuild it.
  • Sinking trees to a depth of 12-25 feet is ideal for crappie. Bass habitats can be a little shallower.
  • Mark the GPS location of your habitat so you can return to it later to fish.

Click here for more information about the 2019 Arkansas Game and Fish Christmas Tree Drop off Information

Arkansas Volunteers Honored for Service

Each fall, we take the time to honor volunteers who have served with us over the past year. This year, nearly 30 volunteers from Stream and Lake monitoring as well volunteers who have supported our educational programs came together to celebrate their accomplishments for the year.

In addition to dinner and celebrating each other, several outstanding volunteers were honored for their service contributions.

Outstanding Service Award:

Honoring Retiring Volunteers who have given 5 or more years of service

2019 Honoree: Gary Culp – Team Leader, West Fork of the White River at Baptist Ford Bridge & Brentwood Park

Gary Culp began volunteering with StreamSmart during its inaugural year in 2012. During his time as a volunteer and site leader, Gary has monitored the West Fork more than 30 times. He also recruited and trained over 10 people to work with his team during his volunteer tenure with Ozarks Water Watch, ultimately recruiting one person who is now serving as the new team leader, ensuring continuity of the work he began nearly 8 years ago. Gary is a lifelong resident of West Fork, Arkansas. He is a long-time member and former board member of the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists. Gary looks forward to relaxing in his life-long swimming and fishing holes on the West Fork!

2019 Honoree: Denis Dean – Team Leader, Spout Spring Branch

Denis Dean Sr. was an inaugural volunteer with StreamSmart, attending our first training we held in the summer of 2012! For more than 7 years Denis and his son, Denis Dean Jr., monitored Spout Spring Branch, a tributary of the West Fork that flows through Walker Park in Fayetteville. Although the monitoring was challenging at times due to eroding banks and unexpected findings in the park or the stream, Denis and his son persevered. Denis was almost always one of the first volunteers to complete monitoring and only missed one monitoring event during his volunteer tenure. Denis is a member of the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists and is a fossils aficionado. He looks forward to giving more support to the service, outreach, and environmental education programs of the master naturalists.

Volunteer of the Year:

Honoring an Overall Outstanding Volunteer

2019 Volunteer of the Year: Jane Mohr, 7th grade science teacher at Elmwood Middle School

Jane Mohr is one of the most highly motivated and interactive middle school science teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. In 2017, Jane approached me about collaborating on an Ecology field trip experience for her middle school science teachers. After our first field trip in 2018, we decided to expand the field experience for the students by including water testing stations, a secchi dip in, soil testing, and water permeability education. Jane was instrumental in helping Ozarks Water Watch secure a $500 grant which helped to purchase the additional supplies for the field trip. She also volunteered her time preparing and organizing equipment for the stations, ensuring a successful field trip. On May 22, 2019 all of our efforts were realized when 280 Elmwood students completed their ecology field trip at Lake Atalanta. In addition to partnering on the ecology field trip, Jane volunteered her time during spring break and over summer break organizing and preparing lake kits and StreamSmart kits. She also helped organize data files and documents for the program. 2019 was an extremely successful year both for our monitoring programs and our water quality education programs because of Jane’s generosity and volunteer service.

Beaver Lake Monitoring Team of the Year

Dale and Deborah Bennett : Beaver Lake Site #2

Dale and Deb have been monitoring Beaver Lake for two consecutive years near the Nursery Pond. They are one of the most diligent teams on Beaver. They were the first team to contact me about picking up their lake kit and supplies, the first team to call about dropping off mid-season samples, and the first to call about completing end of season responsibilities in September. They have always completed their monitoring. This year they gave 37 hours of volunteer service towards monitoring on Beaver Lake.

StreamSmart Team of the Year:

Ward Slough Team: Erin Grantz, Brina Smith, & Abbie Lasater

Erin Grantz has been a StreamSmart volunteer since 2016. In 2018, she began monitoring with the newly established Ward Slough Team, comprised of University of Arkansas staff and graduate students. Erin has served as the team leader for two years, taking responsibility for organizing monitoring, leading the field work, and ensuring the samples and field data forms are submitted.

Brina Smith has been a StreamSmart volunteer since 2018 when she joined the Ward Slough team. Brina has been a wonderful supporter for StreamSmart by promoting monitoring opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students and helping to keep all of our samples organized through her position in the AWRC lab.

Abbie Lasater has been a member of the Ward Slough team since 2018. She is a PhD student in Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Her current research involves working with Dr. Brad Austin to develop a network of discharge monitoring stations in Arkansas using a SonTek acoustic Doppler instrument, which can measure stream discharge using the doppler effect.

StreamSmart Team Captain of the Year

Fred Hopkins: War Eagle at Withrow Springs

Fred Hopkins began volunteering with StreamSmart in 2018 and immediately took the position of Team Captain for the team at War Eagle at the Withrow Springs State Park. He is one of the most diligent team captains in the StreamSmart volunteer network. He leads all of the monitoring events for his site, ensuring monitoring is completed in full and on time. He is a great supporter of StreamSmart and of his team by recruiting and training new volunteers and keeping volunteers engaged at his site. Fred can always be counted on to provide great leadership for his team and he is deserving of being honored as the 2019 StreamSmart team captain of the year.

Autumn leaves in the city can contribute to poor water quality

Photo of Fayetteville, AR by Joe Wittkop (2014)

As we flip the calendar from September to October, we start to think about the beautiful autumn colors of the Ozarks. However, autumn leaves can actually contribute nutrients to our local waterways. This blog by Stephen A. Hubbs, professional engineer from Kentucky with the water quality and health council explains the connection between increased nutrients in our water and the autumn leaves which fall from our trees. Access the complete article here.

Today, a major concern is that leaf litter (i.e., organic debris) spikes stormwater systems and watersheds with nutrients during and after rainfall, especially when it gathers along street curbs. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen often lead to major water quality problems for municipalities, a process called eutrophication,1 and harmful algal blooms (HABs). The sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are many and varied, but leaves that fall on streets and into catch-basins during autumn can add to the nutrient problem in urban streams and lakes—particularly in subsequent summer months that also support conditions for HABs.

The connection between fallen leaves and excess nutrient loading may appear intuitive, but the impact on urban water quality, including release of organic compounds, is not fully understood. A U.S. Geological Survey researcher named William Selbig reported on research conducted during the months of April through November, 2013 to 2015, in Madison, Wisconsin.3 He noted that “While the sources of nutrients to urban stormwater are many, the primary contributor is often organic detritus, especially in areas with dense overhead tree canopy … making source control through leaf removal one of the few treatment options available to environmental managers when reducing the amount of dissolved nutrients in stormwater runoff.”

So What Can I Do?

Think regionally (area streams and lakes) and act locally (your front yard). There are several things you can do this fall to reduce the effect of leaves on urban water quality:

  • Consider mulching in-place with your lawn mower, especially if your yard is relatively flat, and those nutrients will soak into your lawn.4 And it’s probably easier than raking!
  • Gather leaves and other “yard waste” into a compost pile for use next spring to fertilize flower beds and vegetable gardens.
  • If you know when leaves will be collected for your community, wait to rake them close to the street until just before collection time.
  • If you have curbside leaf collection, rake leaves near the edge of the street (keep about three feet of lawn between the curb and the pile) but not into the street. The soil under the leaves will adsorb some of the nutrients when it rains.
  • Keep leaves off driveways, sidewalks and other impermeable surfaces.
  • Keep the streets and catch-basins free of leaves … they usually lead straight to a stream!

Let’s Talk Trash…in our water!

It is often said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I don’t know that we necessarily expect different results by conducting stream and watershed cleanups over and over because we expect to find trash and we become happy or even concerned if we go back to a known location over time and see less trash. It leaves us wondering, “where did the trash go, now?” So maybe this endless cycle of cleanups means we are more insane for not expecting different results!!

But, one thing is becoming more clear, our trash is following our water cycle! There have even been recent reports of microplastics being identified in rain water, indicating plastics are possibly falling out of the atmosphere during rainfall.

So, despite our best efforts to clean up at least some of our streams and watersheds, we continue to find more trash, meaning the cleanups are just part of the cycle and not directly addressing the trash problem. Meanwhile, the trash and plastic problems in the oceans persist and grow.

Sydney Harris, ORISE at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, United States, Toward a standard trash assessment method https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2767&context=ssec

Trash in waterbodies is not assessed and regulated in most states. However, over 200 individual water body reaches in 7 states including Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, and New York have been listed as impaired for trash, debris or floatables since 1996. But, most states or localities have little accounting for how much trash is being accumulated in streams or the efforts underway and costs to clean up trash out of streams.

Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol

A new effort is underway to standardize how we conduct cleanups and account for the trash that is found through the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol. The Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol was created by the Trash Free Waters Program (TFW) of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). A pilot project, featured in the May 2019 EPA Newsletter The Flow…of Trash Free Waters, is currently underway on Three Mile Creek in downtown Mobile, Alabama using the Litter Gitter system and the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol to collect data about the trash found in the creek and provide feedback on the protocol.

DRAFT Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP)

The protocol follows a 4-step process:

Step 1: Site Selection – In this step you will select a site and identify specific boundaries for your cleanup and study.

Step 2: Site characterization and cleanup – In this step you will identify your landuses, existing trash condition, existing preventative measures for trash management, and distance to waterbody. You will conduct a cleanup and catalogue the trash using the datacard.

Step 3: Data Entry and Analysis – In this step you will enter and analyze your data to better understand and describe the trash, conditions, and metrics from your cleanup.

Step 4: Adaptive Management – Propose adaptive management strategies to address localized trash problems.

Benefits of a standardized method

The benefits of having and following a standard protocol are numerous to watershed management.

  • The methods can be implemented across all environments.
  • Results can be compared across states and watersheds.
  • Watershed organizations can use the data to prioritize areas for adaptive management or to implement BMPs rather than endlessly expending resources on conducting cleanups.
  • Data can be visualized and explained to the public and other stakeholders.
  • Long-term data can be collected and analyzed in a methodical way to determine trends of a specific area over time.
  • Upstream and Downstream data can be used to identify inputs of trash or to analyze effectiveness of implemented BMPs.
Sydney Harris, ORISE at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, United States, Toward a standard trash assessment method https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2767&context=ssec

To learn more about efforts to reduce trash, visit Trash-Free Waters at https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters

Protecting Monarchs Protects Water Quality

We often think and talk about environmental work in distinct sections, such as protecting water quality, improving habitat for certain species, removing invasives, or planting natives. Those who work or volunteer in the environmental sector understand all components of environmental work intersect and working in one area can affect another part of the environment. However, the greater public doesn’t always consider those connections.

The Monarch Joint Venture Project explored the important connections and mutual benefits gained between native plants, monarch habitat, and water quality protection in a recent article:

You may be asking yourself, how can monarch conservation help improve water quality and reduce the likelihood of flooding events? The answer is that any monarch planting, large or small, helps reconnect and restore some of the natural functions that our landscape historically provided. Because of this, the habitat you plant to help monarchs can make a positive impact on the water quality in your watershed. Whether you are a gardener, land manager, farmer, city planner, or another type of land or water steward, your pollinator habitat project can make a difference.

Unlike turf grass, native plants that make up monarch and pollinator habitat like milkweed, wildflowers, and bunch grasses, have deep root systems that can reach several feet into the ground. These roots not only provide soil stability and prevent erosion, they also form channels in the soil that help rainfall soak in and replenish our groundwater supply. Moreover, some plants act as sponges for heavy metals and other pollutants, and can prevent them from getting into our streams, rivers, and lakes by soaking them up into their tissues with the water and removing them from the soil. Native plant buffers along roadsides, streams, and agricultural fields, residential or corporate rain-gardens, and any other type of landscaping can be planted with native milkweed, wildflowers, and grasses. These plants provide food and shelter for many wildlife species, including monarchs, while also helping to slow the flow of runoff and prevent contaminants from reaching our waterways.

Planting habitat for monarchs actively reduces the amount of runoff and pollution in our waterways by disrupting the flow of runoff and providing additional places for water to go in the ground. It also requires fewer inputs than other ecosystems, like crops, lawns, or ornamental landscaping. Native flowers and grasses existed long before European settlement alongside the other flora and fauna, and are well adapted to regional soil and moisture conditions.

Diagram showing how native grasses and plants (including monarch habitat) develop deep root systems compared to conventional turf grass (seen at the far left of the diagram)

Be Careful choosing your milkweed!

The drive to promote monarchs and their habitat has largely been in response to the nearly 90% decline in the monarch populations since the mid-1990s. One main message was to plant any and all milkweed. Unfortunately, there have been some unintended and unexpected consequences from the implementing that message. As the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission explained:

The species of milkweed most commonly available to plant in the United States is tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is not native to North America. It turns out that tropical milkweed doesn’t die back in the winter like native milkweed does, creating new winter breeding sites, keeping monarchs from migrating farther south. Although that might not sound like such a bad thing, it poses a great threat to monarchs – it hosts a parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). Monarch caterpillars ingest the parasite while feeding on milkweed and then emerge from their chrysalises covered in OE spores. Infected monarchs are weakened by OE and don’t live as long, and an OE-infected monarch that tries to migrate will probably die before it reaches the overwintering sites in Mexico.

A study reported by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. concluded that monarchs who stayed in the southern United States for the winter were five to nine times more likely to be infected with OE than migrating butterflies.

Plant Native Milkweed!

Plant only native varieties of milkweed. In Arkansas, that includes curly milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella), purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), white milkweed (Asclepias variegata), horsetail milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), and spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis).

If you have already planted non-native milkweed, experts advise that you cut the tropical milkweed back every few weeks during the winter. And, of course, plant more native milkweed. You can learn more about planting native plants on the native gardening webpage of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Largest Class of New Volunteers Trained for StreamSmart

by: Angela Danovi, Ozarks Water Watch StreamSmart Coordinator

One Saturday of classroom and field training concluded with 27 new volunteers, the largest class on record, ready to monitor streams in the Beaver Lake Watershed. The training class was held for new volunteers interested in forming teams with the Ozarks Water Watch StreamSmart Volunteer Monitoring Program.

StreamSmart is a volunteer water quality monitoring program run by to assess baseline water quality of the streams and rivers that flow into Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas. Through the program, local volunteers collect water samples and complete field assessments through a standardized water quality monitoring process.

During the morning training, participants completed classroom training where they received their training manuals, met professional staff from the Arkansas Water Resources Center, and learned about the monitoring procedures. During lunch, they had an opportunity to sign up for one or more of the 7 sites available for new volunteers to monitor.

In the afternoon, everyone joined together at Clear Creek between Fayetteville and Springdale to practice the protocol and enjoy the cool water.

Over the next few weeks the volunteers will get an opportunity to visit their sites, get to know their teammates, and make a plan for their upcoming first monitoring event in August, which will begin our 8th year of volunteer stream monitoring in the Beaver Lake Watershed!

We are looking forward to working with this new group of volunteers and continuing to collect high quality data about our water quality in the Beaver Lake Watershed.