Water Sampling Leads to Search for Silver

By Phoebe Coburn

Teton Conservation District’s Water Resource Specialist Carlin Girard and Natural Resource Technician Elyce Gosselin returned from sampling Fish Creek’s water last week to report a shocking finding – the silver content in the creek has increased. The culprit? “Some doofus lost his wedding ring in Fish Creek,” Carlin said, holding up his naked left hand. “Thankfully I have an understanding wife,” he added.  

 Heidi Bellorado, Brooke Stallings, and Brenner Perryman from Alder Environmental collect samples.

Heidi Bellorado, Brooke Stallings, and Brenner Perryman from Alder Environmental collect samples.

Here at Teton Conservation District we are all about making sacrifices for science.

A few days later, Carlin and I were back in Fish Creek on a snowy November day with Heidi Bellorado, Brooke Stallings, and Brenner Perryman of Alder Environmental. The team waded out into the creek to scrub aquatic bugs off the streambed substrate as part of an ongoing study looking at the effects of nitrate levels in Fish Creek. Here’s how it works: two people use brushes and rakes to clean off the rocks and disturb the streambed beneath. All the aquatic invertebrates scraped off of the rocks or dislodged from the streambed are caught by a net immediately downstream. Everything that’s collected is then put in bottles and shipped off to the lab for analysis. Rocks are also collected from the site and brought back to the office for algae and plant biomass measurement. The reason we look at algae and aquatic plants instead of simply testing the water for nitrates is because water-dwelling plants absorb nitrates quickly. Therefore, algae and other aquatic plants that thrive on nitrates can be used as a proxy to understand nitrate levels in the stream. High levels of nitrates entering the stream directly or through groundwater (often originating from septic systems, manure, and fertilization) can lead to increased algae and plant growth. A flourishing aquatic plant community can degrade the macroinvertebrate community, which can send the whole ecosystem out of whack.

 Carlin Girard measuring Fish Creek’s depth and velocity.

Carlin Girard measuring Fish Creek’s depth and velocity.

As the team was taking samples, a romp of otters (yes, a group of otters is called a romp!) watched curiously from the other side of the stream. Carlin said that although Fish Creek has some nutrient loading issues, it still remains an incredible intact ecosystem – a host of native plants and animals call the Fish Creek watershed home, including otters, trout, osprey, bald eagles, moose, elk, mule deer and more. For me, the fact that Fish Creek is still a relatively thriving ecosystem incites a feeling of responsibility in me to conserve and protect this beautiful creek flowing through our backyard.

If you have questions about Fish Creek or anything water related, contact Carlin at (307) 733-2110 or carlin@tetonconservation.org. Also contact him if you find his wedding ring.