Cass conservation district looking for volunteers

Published 10:27 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

The county conservation district is looking for a few good men and women who don’t mind getting a little wet — and messing around with tiny bugs and critters.

The Cass County Conservation District is hosting a special volunteer training session for its newly launched stream monitoring program at 10 a.m. on Oct. 17, at Fred Russ Forest County Park outside of Dowagiac. The two-hour session will train attendees on how to catch and sort aquatic insects and other invertebrates, which are used to help indicate the level of pollution in a particular body of water.

The local conservation district is teaming up with the St. Joseph County Conservation District to sponsor the volunteer monitoring program, which is funded through a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said CCCD Director Justin Miller. With its various rivers and lakes attracting both local and outside business, maintaining clean waterways is important for the county, he said.

“It’s good to keep track of the condition of the water,” Miller said. “You can easily see something in a field and say ‘that doesn’t look right.’ But most people don’t look inside waterways that often.”

Since certain species of invertebrates are more sensitive to pollution than others, environmentalists can keep track of the quality of waterways by observing which species thrive in a particular stretch of water, and how many are present.

High numbers of creatures like stonefly nymphs, mayflies, caddisflies and gilled snails often indicate a healthy pool of water; conversely, large populations of creatures like leeches, worms, midge larvae and true bugs are signs that it contains a high number of pollutants, Miller said.

The data collected from studies in Cass County will be sent back to the Michigan Clean Water Corps, where it will be compiled for public use, Miller said.

“Folks will be able to look up the data, and see where there might be water issues around the state,” he said.

The initial grant money given to both conservation organizations will go toward training volunteers and paying for equipment for the studies, Miller said. In time, the two districts hope to get additional funding to expand the monitoring program, to coordinate volunteer efforts to sample waters during the fall and winter seasons.

“Our goal is to get most, if not all, tributaries that flow into the St. Joseph River into the program,” Miller said.

Miller and St. Joseph County Director Carolyn Grace will be leading the Russ Park training session, with assistance from Grant Poole, water quality specialist with the Pokagon Band, and Deirdre Kurtis, environmental science instructor with Southwestern Michigan College. Volunteers for the program can be any age, though applicants under 18 years old must have an adult present with them. Attendees are also encouraged to bring their own waders with them for the session.

Miller encourages people across Cass County to sign up to help, he said.

“We all like clean water,” Miller said.

People can call Miller at 269-445-8643 ext. 101 to volunteer; they are asked to RVSP by Monday, Oct. 10, for the training session.