AP Environmental Science class monitors water quality in county

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Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science students from Switzerland County High School have recently contributed their time, energy and enthusiasm to examining the water quality at 12 sites for the Indian Creek Watershed Project (ICWP); and at the Ohio River for ORSANCO RiverWatchers.

Students applied their new skills – learned in the classroom – to field work on Indian Creek and its tributaries during September and December. The 36 AP Environmental Science students and their teacher, Bonnie Fancher, are serving as volunteer monitors for the Indian Creek Watershed Project, an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) water quality project.

The students are supported and encouraged by community partners: Dow Corning with its encouragement and its generous funding of student supplies and equipment; IDEM, with its technical direction and expertise in watershed management projects; Historic Hoosier Hills RC &D, serving as ICW project sponsor; the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), with its resource people and assistance; and the Indian Creek Watershed Coordinator, Cary Louderback.

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During the last two weeks of September, the 36 students analyzed water from tributaries and the main branch of Indian Creek for pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, nitrate, total phosphate, E.coli Bacteria, biological oxygen demand, and turbidity. These data allow a calculation of a “Water Quality Index” for each site.

The Water Quality Indices for the fall quarter ranged from a low of 71-percent to a high of 82-percent, all values being in a “Good” category. Values of 90-100-percent are ranked as “Excellent”; values of 70-89-percent are ranked as “Good”, according to Hoosier Riverwatch of Indiana.

During the 12 sample days in September, which included several inches of precipitation, E.coli bacteria values were in excess of the Indiana standard for streams and rivers of less than 235 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliter (mL) sample. The Indian Creek values ranged from a low value of 300 to a high value of 3,000 colonies per 100 mL sample.

E.coli are an “indicator bacteria” that show the presence of sewage bacteria from human sewage or domestic livestock. E.coli are easy to test for and indicate that disease organisms associated with sewage may be present.

For comparison, a study was done on all 12 sites on October 21st, following 10 days of no significant rainfall. E.coli values at the 12 sites ranged from a low of zero at eight sites; to a high of 100 at two sites; 200 at one site; and 300 at one site.

Studies indicate that E.coli bacterial levels remain above the Indiana standard for 2-3 days following rainfall events. Therefore body contact, such as swimming or wading, is not safe following rainfall. This is common throughout the state and on the Ohio River following rainfall events. Total phosphate phosphorus data were also of some concern, being in a poor range, with values of 0.60-2.91 mg/L or parts per million (ppm).

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Students will begin analyzing the winter quarter data collected in December. They will also be in the field again in April, conducting a spring quarter assessment of the Indian Creek Watershed.

Additionally in April, students will conduct a macro invertebrate survey – a survey of the living organisms that serve as the base of the food sources in the aquatic ecosystem. Past studies have indicated a very high quality of ecosystem in the watershed based on the living organisms in the water. The AP Environmental Science commitment to the Indian Creek Watershed Project is to conduct volunteer monitoring quarterly for the next two years.

These studies will likely be ongoing into future years to assess the implementation of best management practices (BMP’s) by landowners in Switzerland County through the cost-share work of Cary Louderback, the ICWP Coordinator.

Students also monitor the Ohio River at the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park on a monthly basis through the Ohio River Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) RiverWatchers. Students find that most monthly samples of the Ohio River indicate no sewage pollution as evidenced by zero E.coli indicator bacteria.

Students also participated in the ORSANCO Educational Foundation Floating Classroom on September 30th. Following several weeks of preparatory curriculum, students participated in a field trip adventure of measuring water quality, watershed characteristics, navigation, biological indicators, and aquatic biotic. These studies involved projects on native Ohio River fish identification studies, water testing, examining macro invertebrates, and studying introduced species such as the zebra mussel whose competition is an extreme hardship for our native mussel species.

Students conducted this work while on the ‘P.A. Denny’ paddlewheel riverboat.

The very talented and enthusiastic students of the AP Environmental Science Class include:

Maggie Armstrong, Danielle Ballard, Kayla Barnes, Phillip Bentle, Brennan Bragg, William Carr, Lindsay Christman, Ariel Clark, Maggie Devers, Laura Findley, Evan Graham, Caitlin Hale, Abel Hernandez, Noah Hughes, Caitlin Johnson, Leslie Johnson, Baylie Judy, Kayla Keith, Chelsea Lay, Corey McFarland, and Amber Meli.

Also: Trayton Meyer, Samantha Morgan, Jeff Mullins, Kayla Nay, Kendall Otter, Lacey Peelman, Ashley Poling, Tanner Ross, Casey Sharp, Hailee Smith, Shayla Smith, Katherine Spoores, Audrey Swango, Angela Swanson, and Carrie Truax.

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If you would like to know more about the Indian Creek Watershed Project, an early February Steering Committee meeting will be announced soon in the Vevay Newspapers. These meetings are open to the public. For more information, you may contact:

– Cary Louderback, Indian Creek Watershed Coordinator, at 427-3126, extension 3; or email him at cary.louderback@in.nacdnet.net

– Bonnie Fancher, AP Environmental Science Teacher, Switzerland County High School, at 427-2626; or email her at bfancher@switzerland.k12.in.us

- Bonnie Fancher