River group seeks water-testing recruits

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 26, 2013

 A pedestrian bridge spans the Clinton River in Dodge Park.

A pedestrian bridge spans the Clinton River in Dodge Park.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

If you have the bug for keeping the Clinton River clean and healthy, a local organization has just the volunteer job for you.

The Clinton River Watershed Council will train volunteers through its Adopt-A-Stream program Aug. 14 at the Sterling Heights Fire Department in Sterling Heights. The program will teach and equip volunteers to analyze the river’s water and send that data to the CRWC.

Watershed ecologist Jeremy Geist said he helps with the training of the volunteers and walks them through their duties. He said it is important to collect the data because it helps track any kind of changes that might be occurring. “It really serves to give us a snapshot of the stream,” he said.

According to the group, the Clinton River’s main branch is about 80 miles long, and it contains more than 1,000 miles of streams altogether. Part of the river runs through Sterling Heights.

Program director Michele Arquette-Palermo said the watershed program has been monitoring the river’s water quality for more than 20 years, and this particular program has been going on for about seven or eight years. She said the program’s estimated 250 volunteers are testing approximately 55 locations throughout the watershed. 

“What it allows us to do is collect great baseline data,” she said. “We turn it over to the state of Michigan.”

According to Arquette-Palermo, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has a rotation of monitoring water bodies for in-depth information every five years. The grassroots testing data efficiently supplements the state’s data during the interim years, she said.

“Most of our volunteers do not have a scientific background,” she said. “What they all have in common is an interest in a clean river and a commitment to their community.”

Arquette-Palermo explained that the volunteer program sends residents out in May and October to monitor local sites to check out the river water, its physical surroundings and the populations of aquatic insects.

The volunteers conduct a physical assessment of their spot by the river: the width, the depth and surrounding landmarks. They also take temperature readings. Some of the volunteers use waders and bug nets to scoop up aquatic insects, which can give clues about the river’s pollution, she said.

“Certain bugs will tolerate pollution to some extent,” she said. “Then we have some that won’t tolerate any levels.”

The event comes just before recent rains have produced an above-average surge in river water levels, Arquette-Palermo said. For instance, she said this has been demonstrated by higher water velocity, adding that an Auburn Hills gauge showed the water’s discharge rate at 190 cubic feet per second, compared to the 50-cubic-feet-per-second average.

In addition, after a July 15 rain event, the Clinton River jumped from a depth of 9 feet to 11 feet at a Sterling Heights gauge, due to stormwater rushing into the river, she said.

“Mother Nature fluctuates; it changes from season to season based on construction or the amount of rain or climate patterns,” Arquette-Palermo said. “We have seen some areas that have definitely shown some improvements. Other areas have shown the effect of the impact of urbanization.”

The Clinton River Watershed Council will host Adopt-A-Stream volunteer basic training 6-9 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Sterling Heights Fire Department, 41625 Ryan Road, in Sterling Heights. Register at registration@crwc.org or by calling (248) 601-0606. Find out more about the group at www.crwc.org.