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Sierra Nevada Alliance Currents Features Stream Team

Reprinted by permission from Sierra Nevada Alliance

Watershed Currents is a monthly update highlighting watershed issues throughout the Sierra. Please send any articles, ideas, and event listings for watershed related topics to dan@sierranevadaalliance.org

Voices from the Sierra
Timmarie Hamill – Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance

Each month, Voices from the Sierra features a group or individual who cares in one way or another about their watershed. These stories are meant to inspire through a common thread of conservation through collaboration. The Sierra is a great place for learning through sharing- one voice at a time. This month’s featured voice is:

The Big Chico Creek Stream Team: A Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Group
By Dan Keenan

Since 2004, Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance has been coordinating the Big Chico Creek Stream Team. The Stream Team consists of citizen volunteers who collect water quality data to assess the health of the Big Chico Creek watershed.

The Sierra is beginning to see many of these citizen monitoring groups emerge in different watersheds. Citizen monitoring programs enable people who notice environmental impacts induced by human activity to take action. These groups provide an opportunity for concerned citizens to learn about the health of their watershed, while collecting significant data about water quality for direct action. The Big Chico Creek Stream Team is an exemplary model for other monitoring groups.

One reason is that the Big Chico Creek Stream Team successfully monitors a wide range of parameters and water quality indicators in their program. This includes chemical, physical, and biological parameters, flow gauging, seasonal photo documentation and aquatic insect and habitat assessment. In addition to scheduled monthly monitoring events, the team also targets seasonal storm events to capture valuable non-point source run-off data.

Not only does the Big Chico Creek Stream Team include a wide range of monitoring parameters, but it also includes a wide range of community participants. The Team’s base is the monthly public program, but there is also a Youth Stream Team, a collaborative effort with middle and high school students. The Youth Stream Team program involves classroom and field work and is closely tied with teachers’ curriculum. In 2007 alone, the Stream Team brought their monitoring program to 8 schools!

Timmarie Hamill, a long time resident of Chico, California, is the coordinator of the monitoring group through Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance. However, the Big Chico Creek Stream Team is becoming its own sustainable and recognizable entity. Over the last 3 years, the Team volunteers have collectively completed over 12,000 hours with 15-30 monitors at each monitoring event.

Each spring, the Team hosts monitor trainings in which returning volunteers from previous years serve as the trainers. Exemplary citizens who are committed to their watershed give the group its vitality and potential to grow. Although citizen water quality monitoring groups function well as an educational tool, the production of quality, useful data is equally as important.

In fact, when asked what her favorite part about the monitoring program was, Timmarie replied, “That we’re collecting real data that can translate into public action.”

Quality assurance is top priority as the Big Chico Creek Stream Team collects water quality data. One hot issue with Big Chico Creek is the rapid depletion of Spring-run Chinook Salmon, which have historically spawned in the creek. Spring-run Salmon swim up Big Chico Creek and reside in higher cooler pools during the hot summer, waiting to spawn in the fall. Currently, the Iron Canyon Fish Ladder is in disrepair and blocks fish passage in low water years, trapping them in the lower valley reaches of the system where water temperatures are outside their range for survival.

Continual monitoring of temperature and habitat is essential to the future of Big Chico salmon. However, the Spring-run Salmon are only one element of the many fragile aspects of our watersheds that we need to protect and restore. Monitoring groups like the Big Chico Creek Stream Team are all across the Sierra evaluating water quality helping to keep an eye on possible land use impacts, non-point source pollution problems, and other human factors affecting the watershed.

The Big Chico Creek Stream Team is a prime example of a collaborative, dedicated group of citizens who care about their watershed and are motivated to make a difference. It’s another model that demonstrates how involving diverse groups under a common goal is a great way to get things done. The basic principle of watershed management is convincing everyone how important it is to care for our rivers and streams. Big Chico Creek is fortunate to have a lot of people who couldn’t agree more.