August 26, 2010

Keepers of the Lake: Stream Team brings young people into the mix

Paula Frank, Dan Cox and Emily Davis review some data gathered by the Beaver Lake Stream Team.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Dan Cox and Emily Davis know the good feeling you get slogging through a mucky brook and collecting macro-invertibrates in the name of science.
As core members of the Beaver Lake Stream Team, Cox and Davis spent the summer slogging, testing, collecting, observing and documenting their findings from samples taken from Beaver Lake and its main tributaries. What they learned is that the lake is in good shape, environmentally speaking.
Within that broad assessment there was good news and bad news. The good news included the presence of crayfish and freshwater clams – water-borne critters that wouldn't stick around if the water is polluted.
'The not so good news was an abundance of soap suds, oil, lawn clippings, beer cans, glass bottles, baseballs, tennis balls and even a body board – junk that contributes to pollution and can negatively effect the watershed.
Included in the final analysis, a report submitted by Cox, is all kinds of helpful information that will aid those who track the water quality of Beaver Lake, including the town's Department of Public Works and the state Department of Environmental Services.
Davis, a senior at Pinkerton Academy, heard about the project through the school's science club.
Cox, a Pinkerton grad, is a forestry major at Paul Smith's College in New York. He was recruited by Paula Frank, President of Beaver Lake Improvement Association, whose primary goal was to revive the Beaver Lake Stream Team and get students excited about the environment.
“This project serves two purposes – it's mainly about outreach and engaging high school students with a valuable service learning project,” said Frank. “And if we continue the Stream Team, over time it will give us a brief snapshot of areas of biology and erosion – snapshots of what's happening with the watershed.”
The Stream Dream learns the ropes during a training session in June.
As central as it is to life in Derry, Beaver Lake is merely a puddle in the 6,756-acre watershed that is a network of streams, lakes, ponds, marshes and wetlands that spread across much of Derry and parts of Auburn and Chester.
Over the past 50 years, the population explosion in and around the watershed has changed the biology and chemistry of the water system. Twenty years ago, Beaver Lake was polluted, due primarily to failed sewers bordering the lake.
With new sewers and a clean up effort came a renewed commitment to monitoring the water quality, which directly affects the quality of life for those who enjoy recreating in, on and around the lake year round.
Beyond engaging students, it's our hope that the community at large will want to become engaged in monitoring and maintaining the water quality of Beaver Lake,” said Frank.
The Stream Team was initially funded for a year as part of the Beaver Lake Watershed Management plan through a cooperative grant between Derry, Auburn and Chester. Under the direction of Steve Landry of DES Watershed Bureau and Lisa LaValley, a Pinkerton Academy science teacher, the team collected and recorded data about the flora and fauna within the watershed. Then, money ran out.
My initial hope was the Pinkerton would be able to keep it going as a club. But then the Beaver Lake Watershed plan became incorporated into the town's Master Plan, and some of us with the Beaver Lake Improvement Association worked to figure out a way to revive it,” said Frank.
Frank, LaValley and Landry put out the word in the spring, that a team of volunteers was needed. About 25 students initially showed interest. In the end, about six were able to consistently participate, including Cox and Davis, who have already agreed to go slogging through the muck again next summer, in the name of science.
Frank said another layer of support comes from Go Green Derry, an outreach program under the town's Conservation Commission, that hopes to engage the community in enjoying and preserving the natural beauty Derry offers.
Unlike many bodies of water around the state, Beaver Lake has been untouched by the usual bacterial suspects that threaten to stifle summer recreation – in particular the blue-green blooms of cyanobacteria that can be toxic to pets and people.
Whether the vigilance of the Beaver Lake Stream Team and the Beaver Lake Improvement Association have had everything to do with that is hard to gauge. But Frank points out that regular monitoring and tracking early signs of trouble – like an abundance of midge larvae and other tiny creatures who thrive in polluted environments – is like the canary in the coalmine.
That is, of course, if only canaries could swim.
Ultimately, we want to get the community – beyond those who live on the lake – to understand why it's important to monitor the lake regularly. It's for everyone's enjoyment,” said Frank.
You can also find Go Green Derry and Beaver Lake Stream Team on Facebook.

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