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Chapel Hill's Stream Team keeping local streams clean

The Town of Chapel Hill’s water quality monitoring volunteer group, Stream Team, aims to connect residents to the environment and promote an environmentally conscious community.

Stream Team consists of a group of volunteers who are each assigned an area of stream to monitor in Chapel Hill. Once every season, or about four times a year, Stream Team monitors go out to their site and complete a visual assessment of the site as well as testing for nitrate, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, pH and turbidity. 

In addition to Stream Team volunteer monitoring, the town contracts Larry Eaton, chief scientist for Eaton Scientific LS, twice a year to monitor macroinvertebrate levels. 

An indicator of water health, macroinvertebrates are water bugs that can be seen with the naked eye, and their presence or absence in the water helps to indicate whether water is polluted or clean.

Together, Stream Team and professional monitoring help to paint a clearer picture of water quality in Chapel Hill.

“We need eyes and ears and noses out there on the creek so if there is a problem, we can be made aware of it and we can track down what’s causing the problem,” said Wendy Smith, Chapel Hill stormwater management coordinator.

Eaton said he thinks it's helpful to have volunteers and the work they do complements the macroinvertebrate level monitoring he does, which is one of the goals of the program. 

“The chemical measurements will tell you what is going on in this instance of time, it won’t tell you what happened yesterday, or last week or the month before," he said. "The macroinvertebrates will do that."

Dr. George Jackson, a volunteer monitoring a portion of Pritchard Creek,  said he is passionate about keeping the water in Chapel Hill clean. 

While Jackson’s assigned creek is not hugely affected by trash and litter, he said he is concerned about pollution because of litter on South Columbia Road. He said he helps clean the street with nearby residents.

Nearly 15.6 tons of trash have been collected by volunteers since 2009 from watersheds in Chapel Hill.

“Everything on the road and sidewalks goes directly into the stream, we try to pick it up before it happens," Jackson said. "Everything you throw on the ground ultimately drains into drinking water."

Jackson said being a stream monitor is worthwhile work, and volunteers develop a sense of ownership for the creek section they monitor.

“Good stewardship is important for all of us,” Jackson said. “We should all be trying to do something to help on the community level.”

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