Young scientists join river analysis project

Eagle Hill School students David Brusco, at left, and Nicholas Kjekstad, at right, assist visiting scientist Meghan Ruhta from the state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection in assessing the “river.”

Eagle Hill School students David Brusco, at left, and Nicholas Kjekstad, at right, assist visiting scientist Meghan Ruhta from the state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection in assessing the “river.”

Joining Connecticut’s treasure hunt to find the state’s healthiest streams are students at Eagle Hill School and this newest group of young scientists are from the first school in Greenwich to become part of this state-wide venture.

Every year, the state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) requires the work of hundreds of volunteers to conduct river bioassessments (RBV) in their area to determine if there are any pollution-sensitive macroinvertebrates in the streams. If just four or more of the “most wanted” types are found, DEEP can verify that the stream has excellent water quality.

This year, under the direction of science teacher Jeanette Glover and DEEP scientist/volunteer coordinator Meghan Ruhta, the students followed the very precise steps required to participate in the project.

In order to assist in this project, Ms. Glover had to apply for a grant in order to supply the students with the specific equipment needed to conduct the survey and then be included in the Connecticut collection report — a kick net, white-bottom trays, forceps, ice cube trays, leak-proof containers, and much more.

After completing her own training with RBV, Ms. Glover then had to ensure that the students were prepared for the actual collection and analysis on Oct. 28. All data for Connecticut had to be handed in by the beginning of November to be included in the report.

Collection day was clear and warm. Upper School student volunteers, outfitted in rubber boots, followed her out to the stream that runs behind Eagle Hill and began wading in with their kick nets.

On the shore, other students waited with large trays to hold the findings. From there, the students sifted through the leaves and debris, searching for the bugs that were best able to show the health of the water. Collection must be swift and instant as there is no going back into the stream again and again for samples. Everyone uses the same process so that there is consistency in the findings.

“What we’re looking for are really good streams,” Ms. Ruhta said. “The bugs tell us if it’s a high water quality or not, and it’s important to grab what’s in there at that moment.”

Into the ice cube trays went minute samples of flatworms, minnows, dragonfly and mayfly larvae, crayfish, chimarra, snails and other river wildlife.

When asked what the most challenging part of the process was, Connor M. said that it was “Patience. Trying to find things and then they’re where you least expect them — under leaves, hiding behind stones…”

Ms. Glover was pleased to see the students so focused on the collection process and applauded them for their concentration while they sorted through the bins. “When students have a sense that they are doing real work that matters in some way, they are so motivated, and if that work indulges their curiosity of the natural world, that’s even better. “

After the trays of bugs had been sorted, the collection was put into a leak-proof container and taken back to DEEP for further assessment.

As for the students, they were able to see a practical application of the concepts of observation, categorizing and drawing inferences from data, as well as understanding how a teamwork approach to a project of this size could lead to an overall improvement in the way that water systems are managed in Connecticut.

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