When my friends ask what I do all day, I give them an extremely condensed and simplified response: “play in the river and collect nearly invisible bugs.” Although it’s an odd statement, it’s not too far from the truth.
I’m currently working in the Simon Lab with faculty member Thomas Simon in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs through the 2020 Sustainability Scholars program. I am helping to determine the water quality of the Jordan River, which runs through the center of campus, specifically by using macroinvertebrates as indicators for water quality.
The 15 students who are 2020 Sustainability Scholars have an interest in sustainability and improving our campus. We have class together once a week and learn about how to effectively conduct and present our research. As the year comes to an end, we are all working on posters to present, and some of us are already starting on papers to publish. As a freshman, this opportunity is beyond amazing.
When I tell people about my research, I’m surprised by how many don’t recognize the importance of water quality.
We all know that our drinking water goes through the gutters along the street, through a water treatment plant, and eventually into our faucets. But what about the water in a river? Those little H2O molecules don’t get the same kind of special treatment as those in a Dasani water bottle. The water is affected by the trash thrown into it and the human alterations made to it. This water is running through our campus and our homes. The quality is good, but it can be much better.
We are using macroinvertebrates in our research because they are fantastic indicators of pollution. By determining the diversity and abundance of the macroinvertebrates found in the river, in conjunction with physical and chemical tests, we can obtain a pretty clear image of the water quality.
Along the Jordan River, we chose nine sites — each roughly 330 feet long — and collected macroinvertebrates, recorded the physical state of the river (using state operating procedures, so it’s official), and chemical tests (nitrogen, phosphate, pH, etc.). For the collection of macroinvertebrates, we performed 20 efforts in each site. An effort is a one-minute, net-swinging, foot-kicking collection period. We placed a huge net in the water, kicked our feet rapidly so we muddied up the water, and the macroinvertebrates flowed right into the net. After a minute, we put the contents of our net into a jar, moved upstream, and repeated the process 19 more times.
We collected over 17,000 macroinvertebrates and classified them to their lowest taxanomic level. Each species has a specific tolerance integer, and we recorded those numbers. We also used chemical tests and physical tests provided by the state. After comparing all of our data, we were able to determine the quality.
So how can we, as a campus, improve water quality? Be conscious of the river! Don’t dump anything down the grates, do throw your trash in the cans provided on campus, and limit human alterations within and beside the river. Remember, do “water-ever” is necessary to keep the Jordan River clean!
Learn more about other 2020 Sustainability Scholars on the IU Student Experience blog.