Exploring the Rio Chama

River Classroom visited the Rio Chama twice in October. The first trip was a refresher trip- students reviewed benthic macroinvertebrates and how to test water quality. This was the first trip to the Rio Chama for our new students, and everybody really enjoyed it.

A ranger for the US Army Corps of Engineers explains wader safety.
A ranger for the US Army Corps of Engineers explains wader safety.

A refresher in wader safety was at the top of the list, and fortunately our partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to help out. Our favorite ranger also happens to be an expert on benthic macroinvertebrates, so he led the discussion on how this important indicator species can help us determine water quality and the health of the Rio Chama Ecosystem.

Two students test water quality with our new sensors
Two students test water quality with our new sensors

Students also got to try out our fantastic new water quality sensors, with the Labquest 2 interface from Vernier. These sensors were purchased with a generous grant from The LANL Foundation. We also purchased two new field microscopes, which did not arrive in time for this trip, materials to build more kick seine nets, and some new waders (we now have enough for everybody). We’re really set up for water quality monitoring!

One of our new goals is to take water quality measurements that are accurate enough to submit to the New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau. The Vernier sensors are perfect for this task, and we spent much of the summer working on a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) so that we can submit our data. Currently the Rio Chama does not have any impairments (which means that it meets EPA standards), but we will begin gathering a long term data record below (and eventually above) Abiquiu Reservoir.

On our second trip to the Rio Chama, we were fortunate to be joined by Scott Murray, a monitoring specialist with the Surface Water Quality Bureau. Scott talked to the students about his job as a water quality specialist and helped us collect benthic macroinvertebrates with kick seines. He showed students the sonde that SWQB deploys to collect data. He was great at talking to the kids and answering questions!

Scott Murray shows students how the SWQB measures water quality.
Scott Murray shows students how the SWQB measures water quality.

Scott also took samples of the river water to test for E-Coli. He demonstrated how it’s done, although test results take a day. Fortunately, the water in the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam is quite clean, and even if you accidentally ingested some of the water, you probably wouldn’t get sick.

Scott explaining the E-Coli test.
Scott explaining the E-Coli test.

All of the students were incredibly well-behaved, and below is what Scott had to say about the experience.

Thanks again for inviting me. I’ve been running around the office this afternoon telling everybody how impressive your program is, and the level of knowledge the kids retain. I’ve never seen a group of 4th-6th graders so well behaved and knowledgeable.

We are looking forward to continuing our water quality monitoring program and maintaining a record of temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen on the Rio Chama.

Christy

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