Data project monitors area streams
April 21, 2013 2:00 AM
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Volunteers from the Evergreen Conservancy got down and dirty Wednesday as they checked the water quality in several streams throughout Indiana County.

Evergreen President Cindy Rogers and two other volunteers downloaded data from data loggers that the organization has installed in streams to get good baseline information on the water quality in the county and to protect against pollution.

These data loggers look simply like poles sticking out of the water, but they can record water temperature, flow and conductivity every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Conductivity is a key indicator of a stream’s health. An unchanging conductivity usually means no chemicals are being added to or subtracted from the water, Rogers said. A spike in conductivity can indicate an increase in ions from a pollution source, such as a wastewater outfall, agricultural runoff or tidal intrusion.

The data then goes into a database that Indiana University of Pennsylvania has created and is analyzed by the Evergreen volunteers and the IUP geoscience department.

In addition, Rogers and her crew performed a macro-invertebrate sampling Wednesday, in which they collected, identified and recorded the types of bugs found in the stream.

“Some bugs can tolerate living in streams with higher pollution levels,” Rogers said. “If we find them, they can be an indicator of pollution.”

The Evergreen Conservancy, made of an 11-member volunteer board and members from the community, is a nonprofit conservation organization based in Indiana County that aims to advance the preservation, protection and stewardship of natural, cultural and historic resources in and around the county. The conservancy’s water monitoring initiative works to protect against leaks, accidents, holding pond failures and contaminated non-point-source runoff. It aims to prevent pollution or catch it early in order to avoid additional costs and larger problems.

The water-monitoring project was initiated in 2011 in part because of the shale gas industry. However, according to Rogers, no water-quality problems directly related to drilling have been detected.

“Our mission is to preserve and protect our natural resources,” Rogers said. We’re not against Marcellus shale; we’re just for the protection of water.”

According to Rogers, Evergreen has seen a few spikes in conductivity, some due to wastewater and others due to mine water discharge.

“But on the whole,” she said, “the water in Indiana is pretty good. There aren’t a lot of issues so far.”

Since Evergreen began its water-monitoring initiative, the group has placed 32 data loggers and expects to have 35 by the end of the year, Rogers said.

“We really accomplished a lot in that time,” she said.

Data loggers are often placed in areas with a higher risk for pollution or in high-quality streams. Volunteers from Evergreen download data from the data loggers every two weeks and hope to do macro-invertebrate samplings twice a year. Stream assessments and water samples also supplement this data.

The organization runs mostly on grants, memberships and donations. Currently, the group has about 80 members, but it is always looking for new members and volunteers. For more information about Evergreen Conservancy, visit www.evergreenconservancy.org.

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