Like raccoons washing their food, volunteers and biologists wash rocks to collect insects in streams of the Quillayute River system as part of an aquatic insect survey to help evaluate stream health.
The Quileute Tribe, with renewed funding from EPA, is revisiting this important indicator almost 15 years after the first pilot surveys.
“While there have been a few surveys by other entities since that first project, also funded by EPA, in the late 1990s, there hasn’t been a consistent look at all the sites and it’s one of the best indicators of stream health,” said Nicole Rasmussen, Quileute water quality biologist.
The Quileute Tribe partnered with Streamkeepers of Clallam County, a citizen-based watershed monitoring program with an approved methodology for monitoring aquatic insect populations and training volunteers.
At 15 sites in 2013 and 2014, volunteers sifted through material from eight different locations in the stream, separating organic from inorganic matter. Streamkeeper volunteers then worked under microscopes to separate the invertebrates from plant detritus, turning the sorted specimens over to a contractor who identified and counted the types of invertebrates collected.
“In order for the state department of Ecology to accept the results, the site has to be done at least twice within five years,” said Ed Chadd, Clallam County Streamkeeper coordinator.
While taking samples, volunteers and biologists also noted types of wildlife or tracks, along with invasive weeds. Taken as a whole, the results can provide an early warning that water quality might become impaired.
“Partnerships like the ones we’re doing with the Quileute, Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes in different watersheds help both us and them get more work done in less time and help keep the skills of our volunteers sharp with consistent work,” Chadd said.
For the Quileute Tribe, a diversity of the right kinds of insects means the water supports the vital resource of salmon. “If the water is low in oxygen, for example, we don’t find the same kinds of insects that indicate good water quality for fish. It is an additional way to learn if a stream can support young salmon,” said Katie Krueger, policy analyst and staff attorney for the Quileute Tribe. “That is the priority – keeping these streams healthy for fish.”