Water Quality on the Brazos and Chama

Our trip to Tierra Amarilla last week to work with our 5th and 6th grade River Classroom was particularly exciting because for the very first time we tested water quality on both the Brazos and the Chama on the same day!

We began with a short refresher on water quality parameters.

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Discussing water quality

We began at the Brazos, where students also held a contest to see who could make it to the river and back (with water samples) without making a sound.

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We found some neat tracks on the way to the river.

After collecting our samples (and measuring water temperature on-site), we returned to our mobile field lab to test pH, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and nitrates.

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Testing a sample
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Testing a different sample
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Testing turbidity

After testing the Brazos, we loaded the kids back on the bus and headed to the Rio Chama. The Brazos is a tributary of the Chama. Understanding the water quality in both rivers is crucial to understanding the Rio Chama watershed.

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Checking out the ice on the Rio Chama

The results of our water quality tests were really interesting. In terms of temperature, DO, and pH, both rivers were similar (although a pond near the Brazos had a considerably lower DO). The Rio Chama had a higher turbidity and conductivity, and the level of nitrates was double that in the Brazos. These results brought up some interesting questions from the students, and we had a discussion about factors that influence water quality.

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Discussing factors that affect turbidity, conductivity, and nitrates on the different rivers

We’ll continue monitoring these rivers throughout the year to see how water quality changes with the season.

Christy

Water Quality and Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Tierra Amarilla

Fall is a wonderful time to explore the rivers of New Mexico. The sun is still warm, but the water is cool. It’s the perfect time to send students into the river in waders, and this is precisely what we did in Tierra Amarilla last week.

Waders all in a row.
Waders all in a row.

We divided our group into the 5th grade class and the 6th grade class at Tierra Amarilla Elementary and divvied out the waders. Our groups took turns learning how to use kick nets and searching for benthic macroinvertebrates and getting their hands on our fantastic Vernier water quality sensors for the first time.

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Identifying benthic macroinvertebrates using loupes
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Testing out the Vernier display and water quality probes
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Testing dissolved oxygen

We were on the Rio Chama once again for this trip. We’re looking forward to comparing our data in this location to our measurements on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. This will give us a more thorough understanding of the Rio Chama and the health of the riparian ecosystem.

Christy

Comparing Lake and River Water Quality

The weather has been gorgeous lately, and with River Classroom, we latch on to any excuse we can to be outside. Yesterday, our 4th-6th graders from Espanola headed back to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam to test water quality.

We began on the Rio Chama, where half of our students measured data, while the other half learned “The Good Graph Rules”. These rules will be very important next time we meet, and we’ll be creating graphs on which we can record our water quality data for the rest of the year.

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Testing water quality on the Rio Chama
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Testing water quality on the Rio Chama
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Recording our data
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Taking time out to catch and identify a Sagebrush lizard

After a thorough discussion of the water quality on the Rio Chama, we headed back up to Abiquiu Lake to eat lunch and switch groups. We wanted to compare water quality on both bodies of water.

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Everybody is happy to be outside doing science!
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Confident students measuring dissolved oxygen
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Measuring pH and conductivity with our samples.
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Recording meteorological data
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Everybody has a job and a parameter to measure

We’ve measured water quality before, but this was the first time this year that we took the time to discuss it in detail. Water is a very important resource in New Mexico, and our students understand why it’s something that we should value and protect. We’ll continue monitoring water quality data throughout the year, both in Abiquiu and in Tierra Amarilla. These data will help us understand the Rio Chama watershed so that we can protect and conserve it.

Christy

River Classroom Takes to the Lake

Last Wednesday we met with our 4th-6th grade River Classroom from Espanola. We took advantage of the gorgeous, warm weather and headed back up to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature
Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature

Last time we met, we didn’t have time to rotate through all of the groups, so we caught up and made sure that everybody was on the same page.

Making another watershed
Making another watershed
Learning how to use a GPS
Learning how to use a GPS

We also took our very first water quality readings on the Rio Chama. The river was surprisingly warm, and our numbers (especially for dissolved oxygen) were quite different than they tend to be during the winter. We’ll keep taking these measurements all year to develop a good record of water quality on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring turbidity
Measuring turbidity
Recording our data
Recording our data

After all of this hard work, we headed up the hill and back to Abiquiu Lake, where our students got a quick introduction to kayaking and canoeing. Fortunately our good friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake were on hand to help us stay safe in the water by loaning us child-sized life jackets.

Our friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers talk about water safety.
Talking about water safety
Carrying boats down to the water
Carrying boats down to the water
It's not as easy as it looks on the first try!
It’s not as easy as it looks on the first try!

By the end of the day, everybody was doing a fantastic job in the water.

Paddling like a pro!
Paddling like a pro!

Collecting robust scientific data is one very important aspect of River Classroom, but we also strive to make sure that our students learn how to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the northern New Mexico landscape. The future depends on our students!

Christy

McCurdy Visits the Rio Chama

We’ve tried several times to take our McCurdy High School Earth Sciences class to the Rio Chama to explore the riparian ecosystem, test water quality, and survey benthic macroinvertebrates. Each time the weather has foiled our plans. Finally last Thursday we got our chance!

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McCurdy High School students learning to use kick nets.

We began the day on the Rio Chama, where students put on waders and learned how to safely wade in the river. Students took turns using the kick nets and picking benthic macroinvertebrates off of the kick nets with tweezers. We took samples from the middle of the river and from the river bank.

On the river bank, we found mayflies, midges, leeches, snails, craneflies, and one bristle worm. In the center of the river, we found caddis larva, worms, craneflies, midge pupae, midge larva, and mayflies. The crane flies in the center of the river were much larger, and overall we found a much greater diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. We suspect this is because the center of the river has had water through the winter, while the banks did not. The river level has risen steadily during April, as seen below in the stream gauge data.

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One of our more interesting finds of the day.

Students also helped calibrate our water quality sensors and test river temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and level of dissolved oxygen.

After all of this data collection, we headed up to Abiquiu Lake to celebrate the students’ hard work with a picnic.

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A few brave students even swam in the cold water!
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Enjoying the views.

Our McCurdy students have done a fantastic job this year. We’ve covered a lot of material, and the students have made great progress in their Earth Science knowledge. We hope to see some of these students in the future at Northern New Mexico College!

Christy

Exploring New Territory: The Pecos River

Last Friday was overcast and rainy, but that didn’t stop us from heading to the Pecos River with a Wildlife Biology class from Santa Fe High School! This class has been a part of Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program, and they raised a tank full of tiny Rio Grande Cutthroat trout. Last Friday, the class released the trout. We also discussed and tested water quality and identified benthic macroinvertebrates, to be sure that the stream is healthy enough for the trout to survive.

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Using kick seines to find benthic macroinvertebrates.
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Now THAT’S a salmonfly!
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Looking at benthic macroinvertebrates with a few members of the Truchas TU Chapter.
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One of the tiny cutthroat, ready for release.
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The trout goes into the river!

We found a fantastic diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates, including some of the biggest stoneflies (Pteronarcys) I’ve ever seen. The Pecos is a very healthy river, with low values of turbidity and conductivity (until students began wading upstream) and high values of dissolved oxygen (DO). We have high hopes for these little trout!

Christy

Teacher Training: Learning about Water

Last Saturday was the second in our series of Saturday teacher trainings for the Improving Teacher Quality Grant from the Title II New Mexico Higher Education Department, which NMWC is hosting in conjunction with Northern New Mexico University. Last month we discussed geology. This month we moved on to a very important topic in New Mexico- water!

We headed up to Abiquiu Reservoir. NMWC is fortunate to have a fantastic partner in the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) at Abiquiu Dam, and a few rangers helped out with training.

Two teachers practice drawing landforms on plexiglass.
Two teachers practice drawing landforms on plexiglass.

Our first activity was one of our favorites- drawing landforms while looking through plexiglass. As in River Classroom last week, simplifying the shapes of the landforms allowed our teachers to notice important differences in the scenery around us. They correctly identified the path of the Rio Chama upstream by noticing the Rio Chama canyon.

Sketching landforms at Abiquiu Reservoir.
Sketching landforms at Abiquiu Reservoir.

We also examined maps of New Mexico and discussed not only the concept of watersheds, but which watersheds we live and go to school in.

Next we headed into the Abiquiu Lake Visitor Center, where ranger Austin Kuhlman explained how USACE manages our water. Most people don’t realize that the Rio Chama and Rio Grande carry more than just native water. The San Juan-Chama project carries water across the Continental Divide from the western San Juan mountains.

A map of the San Juan-Chama project.
A map of the San Juan-Chama project.

Ranger Kuhlman also explained a few intricacies of the Rio Chama ecosystem, including what USACE is doing to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.

Ranger Kuhlman displays a length of PVC pipe that is covered in quagga mussels.
Ranger Kuhlman displays a length of PVC pipe that is covered in quagga mussels.

After a quick lunch break, we grouped back up for a brief overview of acequias. Tim Seaman, the commissioner of the Abeyta-Trujillo Acequia, shared his knowledge of the acequia system and its history.

Tim Seaman explains the ins and outs of acequias
Tim Seaman explains the ins and outs of acequias.

After all of this talking, it was time to get outside and move. We set up three stations. The first station used some really neat stream table activities from the River Cutters workbook, which was generously loaned to us by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. These complete kits are available to be checked out by local teachers. They use diatomaceous earth as a medium, which is unlike any other stream kit I’ve seen. They’re small and portable, easy to use in groups, and in my opinion, they are very, very effective at teaching many concepts.

One of the stream tables set up.
One of the stream tables set up.
These kits are doubly fun because you can get your hands messy!
These kits are doubly fun because you can get your hands messy!
Red "toxic waste" has leached into our river!
Red “toxic waste” has leached into our river!

The second group used several different methods to test water quality in the river. Dr. Brenda Linnell from NNMU helped out with this group.

Dr. Linnell explains the chemistry of testing water quality.
Dr. Linnell explains the chemistry of testing water quality.

The final (and let’s face it- most popular) group learned how to wade in the river and collect benthic macroinvertebrates. Dr. Pedro Chavarria helped out with this group and explained how to identify the tiny bugs.

Ranger Naranjo helps collect benthic macroinvertebrates.
Ranger Naranjo helps collect benthic macroinvertebrates.
Almost everybody got in the water.
Almost everybody got in the water.
Two teachers examine benthic macroinvertebrates in a kick net.
Two teachers examine benthic macroinvertebrates in a kick net.

We found some very interesting benthic macroinvertebrates this time.

Giant benthics!
Giant benthics!

There were quite a few fly fishermen around, and one of them showed up his fly box. These little guys look familiar!

A box full of fake benthic macroinvertebrate.
A box full of fake benthic macroinvertebrate.

All in all, it was a fabulous day. The weather was gorgeous, everybody was engaged, and I think we all learned a lot. Next month we’re on to wildfire!

Christy