Do I have to be a TSRA member to adopt a river?
Not at this time. We appreciate the efforts of anyone who will take the time to monitor a river. However, adopters can benefit from membership with the organization, and we appreciate the extra support provided to TSRA by dues-paying members. Memberships are only $25.
Do I have to do bug surveys, chemistry checks, AND cleanups every year if I adopt a river?
No, but all adopters are conducting one or more stream survey in 2015. We encourage maximum participation, but the AAR program is an informal one that lets you operate at your own pace. Healthy, clean streams obviously require little action. Streams that are more challenging can tend to receive more attention. Of course, people that are able to spend a little more time on their stream receive the rewards of time well-spent. Adopters are expected to observe overall watershed activities and to conduct at least one invertebrate survey per year at a strategic site - preferably at the same site each year and during the same season to observe possible changes. Results should be provided to the AAR coordinator during October or earlier each year.
How do I begin to monitor my stream/river or watershed?
Drive, hike, float/paddle your watershed and get a feel for the activities that are occurring there. Is there logging, housing development, row-cropping, cattle access, road construction, the presence of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), or another activity that may contribute unnecessary levels of pollutants to the watershed? Think in terms of the substances that may be added to streams, such as sediment, herbicides, and organic matter. Then think about the values that you place on your stream (fishability, presence of bugs that act as fish food, a lack of sinus problems when you swim, or simply aesthetics). Focus on the types of monitoring that would be helpful in demonstrating success, or lack thereof, of these values and stream functions. Keep in mind that situations involving potential pathogens, such as sites downstream of WWTP's and locations allowing access of streams to cattle, are often better left to the people who are paid to monitor those waters. Safety and health are first while monitoring streams.
Should I check water chemistry, and how do I do it?
The "proof is in the pudding", so to speak. That is, samples of invertebrates at sites of unknown water quality will tend to provide adequate information about stream integrity. If an invertebrate community appears healthy, there's generally no need to check water chemistry. If, on the other hand, a site seems suspect, a sample of basic water quality parameters (e.g., dissolved oxygen, temperature, clarity, and pH) at a particular stream site may be in order. The AAR coordinator has test kits for this purpose and will provide more specific information about sampling. Complex water quality problems are referred to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
How do I go about sampling a stream's invertebrate community?
If you haven't sampled invertebrates (otherwise known as "bugs"), it will be helpful to set up an on-stream session with the AAR coordinator. A general overview is provided here as an introduction. If you're not sure of the health of your watershed's bug community, a reconnaissance of your watershed may be in order. Several samples scattered throughout the watershed will be helpful, beginning near the lower end of your area of interest or at sites of the most concern. The lower end of a stream will tend to reflect all of the watershed's inputs, although dilution and assimilation of pollutants may actually result in pollution levels that are lower than those near impacted sites. Obviously, several factors can come into play here, and more bug samples downstream of potential areas of disturbance may be helpful.
March and April are the best months to find lots of large bugs. If you wait until June, you're too late to get a high quality sample. Wherever you decide to sample first, be sure that the water surface is at knee level or lower for your personal self-control. You should find a riffle (i.e., a site where rocks stand above the water surface) with a variety of bottom materials. These substrate materials should vary from pea size to basketball size if possible. Bugs really go for substrates in the range of nickels to baseball size, especially if there are some rocks thrown in that range from baseball to basketball diameter. Also, do your best to choose sites that are well-shaded throughout the day.
To collect a bug sample, a net that is designed for the purpose should be placed firmly on the bottom within the stream's current. The larger substrate materials upstream of the net are swished in the current to dislodge bugs into the net, and the smaller remaining substrate is disturbed to dislodge bugs that are buried in the stream bottom. Two different riffle sites within the same vicinity should be sampled if a highly accurate description of the bug community is desired. Three square feet or more should be sampled in this manner. If you're able to find 200 individuals bugs before sampling a full three square feet, you've likely reached the point of diminishing returns and can conclude the sample.
To process a netful of bugs and materials (leaves, twigs, gravel, etc.), invert the materials from the net into a bucket or similar container of water. Pick up bugs that have adhered to the net with forceps (tweezers) or a similar tool, and place into one or more containers of water. It is helpful to separate types of bugs into different containers for data recording. A small amount of material from the bucket should be placed into a shallow container such as a cat litter pan with a small amount of water. Note that large materials such as gravel and leaves can be removed from the pan if checked for clinging bugs in order to provide a greater field for viewing and bug removal. Gentle shaking of the pan can cause bugs to wiggle, resulting in greater ease in picking. All material from the bucket should be processed in this manner, taking care to thoroughly pick out the majority of bugs present. One-hundred to two-hundred or more individual bugs per sample can be expected. Abundance of different bug types should be recorded along with other information as specified on the data sheet. A formula for calculation of the stream's health is one component of this sheet. The AAR coordinator can provide these standardized data sheets.