Student Research Project Takes Center Stage at FFR Annual Meeting

Friends of Five Rivers and Bethlehem High School staff joined forces over the last year to provide students an overview of research opportunities at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center. The results of their research were presented at the Friends' Annual Meeting on November 15th, 2017.

In the fall of 2016, Friends created a Water Quality Assessment Workshop to showcase the numerous citizen science programs available. NYS DEC’s Water Assessment by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) took center stage at the workshop. All eighty students learned how to assess the Vlomankill Stream’s habitat before stepping into the water to collect organisms for the study. By the end of the workshop, nine students elected to conduct research at Five Rivers which they presented at the Friends’ Annual Meeting.

Three of these students, Kate Molinsek, Jason Hart and Katie Wallace, joined together to evaluate seven sites in local streams where roadways and/or businesses may be negatively impacting water quality. Two of these sites were in the Vlomankill Stream on Five Rivers’ property, one upstream and one downstream of a potential pollution source. The team’s data has been handed over to professional WAVE researchers for further evaluation. Based on their findings, each stream will be identified as having one of the following conditions: no known impact, possibly impaired or no conclusion. Streams found to have a possible impairment will be flagged for further investigation at the professional level. Kate, Jason and Katie presented their work and initial findings and received a round of applause for their thorough research.

The second team of students, Sydney Smith, Christina Armbruster, Karen Huang, Lance Tamchin and Bella Ruud, conducted research on the productivity of the SUNY ponds located on Five Rivers’ property. These ponds were created in the early 1980’s for the study of pan fish and are currently used for the study of pond ecology for Guided School Program’s participants. While these six ponds were created identically, only two are productive. The team worked diligently to determine why the other four were failing. They measured pond depth, surface area, dissolved oxygen levels, pH, and turbidity. They also studied soil profiles and seined each pond for living organisms before analyzing the data. The team found that the four unproductive ponds had higher pH levels and temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels. These water quality issues prevent macroinvertebrates from being able to sustain life. The team suggested the following remedial actions: increase pond depth to lower temperatures and increase dissolved oxygen levels, introduce aquatic and terrestrial plantings to provide habitat and to add to the detritus layer, add pine needles and bark to lower pH, and introduce leaf litter to provide nutrients to macroinvertebrates. After presenting this body of work, the team received accolades on the physical nature of the work and on the students’ sharing of their personal growth through participation in this research project.

All nine students should be commended for their mature, scientific study of these water quality issues. Their presentations demonstrated both growth of understanding this field of study and teamwork. Congratulations Kate, Jason, Katie, Sydney, Christina, Karen, Lance and Bella!

And congratulations to the FFR staff Nancy Conway and Nancy Payne, NYS DEC staff Anik Gibeau, and Jennifer Gonyea, Science Supervisor for the Bethlehem Schools, for guiding these students through this valuable experience! The health of the streams and ponds at Five Rivers is the better for this effort.