Water watchdogs

Local group launches its 11th year of creek monitoring

Stream Team volunteer Mercedes Marin tests water along Big Chico Creek.

Stream Team volunteer Mercedes Marin tests water along Big Chico Creek.

PHOTO courtesy of Timmarie Hamill

This Saturday (May 10), the local chapter of the California Urban Streams Alliance will launch its 11th year of operation. The Stream Team, as they’re known, gathers environmental data from the Big Chico Creek watershed and then shares that information with the State Water Board to track long-term trends and create water policy.

Member Timmarie Hamill is a local biologist and enthusiastic supporter of the project. She says with a decade under their belts, the information they gather is now beginning to reflect long-term cumulative effects of urban land-use practices on the health of Big Chico Creek.

“We’ve been around since 2004 and even a little earlier than that getting things ready and starting out small,” she said. “This is our 11th consecutive year of monitoring water on Big Chico Creek at 10 sites, from the upper watershed down to the mouth.”

That includes Butte Meadows, through the Forest Ranch area and then Upper, Middle and Lower Bidwell Park, continuing through the city and along Rose Avenue below the urban area, beyond which, on its way to the Sacramento River, the creek is affected by the inflows of Mud and Rock creeks as well as agriculture.

She said they monitor overall water quality and use equipment that allows them to document the pH levels, conductivity, turbidity (a measure of water clarity), temperature and oxygen levels.

“Then we also do bio-assessment, which means taking a look at the aquatic diversity of the juvenile insect nymphs that live in the creeks,” she said. “If they are there for two or three years and known to be sensitive to pollution, then you can assume the creek is in pretty good shape. But if you just have black flies and roundworms, you’d be concerned.”

On Friday (May 9), the team will work with students from Inspire High School to monitor trash in the creek.

“We’ve worked periodically with most of the schools in town,” Hamill said, “depending on the task we are trying to achieve that year and whether or not we have a willing teacher who can get their kids off campus and do the work. We try to modify what we are doing for students in order to get them involved and allow them to apply what they are doing in their classroom to a real-life situation.”

She said the students from Inspire signed up as volunteers at the recent Endangered Species Faire. They will meet at the amphitheater located along the creek on the Chico State campus.

“This is a survey that the State Water Board uses,” Hamill said. “It’s called a rapid trash assessment and is a way of setting a baseline and then trying to get people connected to how much trash is in the creek. And then we do outreach and education and target certain types of trash or areas that are really trashed. Then we have to be able to document that we made a difference and involved the students.”

The goal in the effort is two-pronged: To collect real data that is useful to resource managers locally, regionally and statewide and to involve the students so they become better engaged and informed about what they can do to make a difference.

“It’s amazing that it really works,” Hamill said. “After all these years, holy moly, people keep showing up.”

Volunteers are asked to help with the monitoring events that begin Saturday and run through October on the second Saturday of the month. Those interested meet at the Five-Mile picnic area parking lot at 9 a.m. More information is available at www.thestreamteam.org.

“We really need money but everybody needs money so we work regardless,” Hamill said. Though they’ve received $600,000 in grants over the years, most of it came early on. “We haven’t ever reached out locally for any funding or done any fundraising really. We’re too shy. But we have to start doing that. We like to say we’ve done a lot of good work, but we haven’t done a very good job of hollering about what we do.”