One of the important things we do at Beaver Ponds is water quality monitoring. This is fundamental to the management of water resources that support healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems as well as sustainable and healthy water supplies. These tests can tell us how well a river or stream is functioning and if it is healthy or at risk.  

Our monitoring team developed a twofold plan to monitor creeks and rivers. The first part
involves monthly data collection and analysis using the protocols of Colorado River Watch. The second is to collect additional data on the entire reach of the creek or river using stream
surveys. We monitor three creeks, Little Sacramento, Sacramento and Pennsylvania as well as
the Middle Fork of the South Platte River.   

River Watch is a volunteer water quality monitoring program that involves more than 300
schools and other groups throughout the State of Colorado. Water quality monitoring is
conducted at 3,000 stations on over 300 rivers, covering all the watersheds in Colorado. Beaver Ponds became a River Watch partner and monitoring site in May of 2017. We follow River
Watch’s prescribed methods of data collection and analysis to ensure the data is of high quality. 

We monitor biological, chemical and physical, characteristics of our chosen streams and rivers. Monitoring occurs mostly during Summer months, when the water finally thaws and flows. The following is a discussion of each parameter.  

Biological Parameters  

One of the best ways to understand the health of rivers and streams is to monitor the creatures and plants that live there. Annually, we collect specimens of aquatic macroinvertebrates, the aquatic insects and bugs that live on the bottom the stream and provide food for fish. “Macro” refers to being big enough to be seen with the naked eye as opposed to a microscope. “Invertebrate” refers to creatures without a backbone. They wear their bones on the outside, what is known as an exoskeleton.  

These creatures have adapted to the underwater life in many fascinating ways. They spend most of their lives on the stream bottom. Some are predators whose jaws can extend out in a flash to catch their prey. Some can even nab small fish. Others are net spinners who throw their webs into the water to capture prey. Our volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from each of our streams annually, usually in the late summer or early fall. The specimens are sent to River Watch biologists who identify them and analyze their population for stream health. Simply put, the more bugs we find, the healthier the water source.  

Chemical Parameters  

Water in creeks and rivers is influenced by where it originates, what it flows over and percolates through. Under natural conditions the chemical characteristics of our water bodies are affected by a variety of sources, including surrounding soils, rocks and air pollution. Analysis of chemical parameters in water bodies helps us identify dangerous or toxic substances that are present in the aquatic environment above their natural levels. Monitoring for chemical characteristics over time highlights any significant changes or trends that may be happening in water bodies. Analysis of stream water chemistry provides an understanding of the environment in which the living creatures in the stream exist.  

The pH test is one of the most common analyses in water testing. pH measurements are on a scale from 0 to 14, with 7.0 considered neutral. Solutions with a pH below 7.0 are considered acids and those above 7.0 considered bases. The pH scale is logarithmic, so every one-unit change in pH represents a ten-fold change in acidity. In other words, pH 6 is ten times more acidic than pH 7; pH 5 is one hundred times more acidic than pH 7.  

The streams we monitor near Beaver Ponds have pH ranges of 6.0 to 8.0. We measure pH using a hand-held monitor, placing the sensor directly in the stream to obtain the pH reading.  

There are many other considerations when measuring the health of water bodies. Beaver Ponds will measure the water temperature, which is often linked to pH. The amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) present in the water can help determine water health. Other factors may include alkalinity, water hardness, and the existence of heavy metals in the water supply. I intend to delve deeper into these topics in future newsletter articles. 

Physical Parameters  

The shape of a stream, the way a stream flows and the qualities of the stream bank and bottom can help determine how much life it can support. Measuring the physical characteristics of a stream can also be useful for studying how a stream changes from year to year. Physical habitat should provide places for feeding, hiding, resting, and spawning for resident fish.  

Other physical factors can affect the overall health of a water body. Pools, riffles and runs create tiny habitats or specialized environments where organisms can thrive. Obstacles are anything that can slow the stream, and can affect water quality and sometimes impair the ability of our volunteers to navigate the stream bed. Substrate is what the stream bed is compose of. We look at the percentage of large and small rocks, important for fish spawning and whether there is a lot of sediment which may indicate a pollutant discharge or other stream disturbance.  

Beaver Ponds is committed to monitoring water quality throughout our streams and rivers. In the next few months, we’ll be presenting the data we’ve collected, and summarizing just what that data means in language you can understand. This information can be so important in identifying future problems to our water sources. We’ll be offering programs at our facility to go over the data we’ve collected and our conclusions about that information. We’ll also provide our studies on the Beaver Ponds website. We hope you’ll check back often.

– Kristin Barrett