Video: Group surveys water's health
BY KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors
Sunday, August 23, 2009
8/15/10 at 8:28 AM
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UP TO HER CHIN in the meandering, red-stained current of Deer Creek, the look on Kim Shaw's face was more like that of someone looking for a lost file on their desk than someone half-swimming with her hands in muck, feeling blindly for sticks and stumps under about 3 feet of water.
"It's stuck again over here," said Cheryl Cheadle, her knees and feet tenuously lodged in the Oklahoma hard pan clay at the creek's edge. She worked to maintain her balance on the slippery slope, while pulling a weighted seine as Shaw probed below to work the bottom of the net around and over obstacles. With luck they would capture any fish that might happen to live in this little bit of semi-urban stream north of Edmond.
Welcome to a work day with the staff of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Blue Thumb Water Pollution Education Program. Cheadle, coordinator and Shaw, educator for the program, are half of the state's Blue Thumb staff, based in Bristow. I joined the crew, which includes Jean Lemmon, quality assurance officer, and Bill Deshazo, water quality technician, on Deer Creek Monday.
Becky Inmon, a district secretary with the Oklahoma County Conservation District, also worked the stream Monday. She volunteered her time for the day. And it was a full day. Wearing shorts, wading shoes and T-shirts they walked into Deer Creek at 8:30 a.m. and probed and measured and examined a 400-meter stretch near Meridian Road until nearly 5 p.m.
Dozens of volunteers across this state literally get into water conservation up to their necks — preferably not over their heads — when they dive into the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Blue Thumb program. If you hunt or fish (or for that matter, drink water) it's a program worthy of your attention.
Relying heavily on volunteers, the Blue Thumb staff monitors the health of waterways by periodically sampling water chemistry and taking assessments of erosion, available habitat, and collecting and assessing the numbers of macro-invertebrates (worms and insect larvae) and fish that inhabit our streams. The program celebrated a milestone this year with more than 100 streams now on its roster, Cheadle said.
Volunteers pitch in at different levels. Some, like the school group that usually looks at Deer Creek, are classes looking for real-life learning experiences. Others are landowners who monitor the health of streams crossing their property. Others are just involved conservationists who realize the importance of the water we drink and what's available for wildlife — or livestock — and they get some training and adopt a stream.
Monday was real work for this crew. Covering every inch of the stream meant crawling over and through brush and floating debris in the creek, poking around under stumps and root tangles and literally getting down and dirty in the water.
These intense fish samplings are done on the creeks only once every four or five years and staff gets involved. Volunteers do help when schedules and weather allow, however. "School classes, the kids especially, just really get into it," Cheadle said. Participation is requested of volunteers but Herculean slogging is not required.
"What we're doing today is looking at the stream from the fish's point of view," Cheadle said. "Looking at the habitat."
Look over the bridge at Deer Creek as you drive by and it doesn't look like much more than a watery ditch. Small as it appeared from Meridian Road however, a map showed the waterway is connected to streams from Oklahoma City to Guthrie and the Cimarron River. This water represented a wide drainage area.
In the stream we found the expected signs of snakes and mayflies and crawdads. Cheadle found the shells of native freshwater mussels. "People don't get very excited about mussels but they're a real good indicator of the health of a stream," she said.
The seining took all afternoon. I half-expected they'd find a green sunfish or two, lots of crawdads and bunches of minnows. But the spotted bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish, longear and orange spotted sunfish, freshwater drum and gizzard shad surprised me. Then there were the remarkably bright red shiners and who knows how many different species of minnows. I'd never caught a mosquito fish or a logperch before.
A lot of neat stuff lives in that little muddy stretch of water. All it took for me to see it was to get up to my neck in it.
And I have to admit, now I'm really curious about just what's in that creek behind my house.
BLUE THUMB TRAINING FOR NEW VOLUNTEERS
Tulsa: Sept. 26-27, from 8:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m.
Tulsa County Conservation District
5401 South Sheridan Road
Tulsa OK 74145
Call: (918) 280-1595
Cheryl Cheadle (left), Bill DeShazo, Kim Shaw and Jean Lemmon, staff of the Blue Thumb Water Pollution Education Program with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, check the contents of their seine in Deer Creek north of Edmond on Monday. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World
A small flathead catfish and a logperch rest in a seine during sampling of Deer Creek, north of Edmond, on Monday as part of the state's Blue Thumb Water Pollution Education Project. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World