Green Guide

Phoenix School students monitor the health of Deer Creek

Posted October 15

— For students at Phoenix School learning about watersheds through restoring and monitoring Deer Creek, it's been more than just about homework.

Like they have for the past five years, students at Phoenix school have taken a very hands-on approach to watching over the creek, reported The News-Review (

"Whatever they do here is connected to the rest of the world through the ocean," said Lindley Ballen, a science instructor at Phoenix School.

On a Wednesday morning, 18 students from her natural resources class gathered under a bridge along the banks of Deer Creek near downtown Roseburg. Deer Creek connects to the Umpqua River.

With orange rain coats, species identification charts, note pads and testing probes, the students monitor the stream's water quality each week based on the levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and nitrogen.

Several students with waders and nets, including Nik Birdsell, walked through the creek to scoop up samples of sediment from the riverbed floor to find benthic macroinvertebrates, including bugs, minnows, dragonfly larvae and several tiny, wiggling lamprey larvae.

"Depending on how many certain kinds there are, we can tell how healthy the water is," Birdsell said. He carried his samples over to the tubs on the bank, where other students searched through them to find the little creatures.

"We're making sure the water is healthy and learning how to use less water so in the long run we can make it more clean and with less pollution," Birdsell said.

Fellow student Maddy Pickett added that pollution can affect the pH levels of a stream, which also indicates how safe it is for the benthic macroinvertebrates.

"A lot of it is pollution from gasoline and oil runoff from cars," she said, pointing up toward the bridge. "When it's hot out and a car starts to drip oil or gas, it seeps into the road. Then when it rains it flows down into the creek."

Pickett was also monitoring the water flow.

"There's a lot more water and a lot more flow because of the rain," Pickett said. "Last time there wasn't as much water and it was slower."

If there's too much nitrogen in the water, it can lead to algae growth, which takes oxygen out of the water, leaving little for the fish and plants to breathe.

Another student, Sammi Bissonnett, was testing the dissolved oxygen levels in the water.

"I'm finding how much oxygen is getting put into the water," she said. Since the water was moving quickly that morning after the rainfall, her monitor showed fairly good levels.

Ballen said the Deer Creek project is also meant to help teach the students to be mindful of pollution and how much they use every day. For example, the microbeads found in some toothpastes and face washes can end up in the ocean and back on their dinner plates via salt and fish.

After each trip to the creek, the students write reports analyzing their findings. They plan to monitor the creek at three different sections to compare results.

During the previous five years, Phoenix students have worked to restore Deer Creek, removing invasive plant species and planting native species in the area through a $78,653 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a lottery-based state agency that aims to help people improve the health of their local watersheds.

"The project is another great example of a school working with local partners to improve the health of their local urban watershed," said Mark Grenbemer, southwest regional program representative for OWEB. "One of the things that really made this project special is the involvement of the kids. It helps teach them valuable skills and it helps instill a sense of pride in their community."

Students have been involved in all aspects of project, from the design, to the implementation and monitoring.

"They've really been able to shepherd the project from the beginning through the end, and it's one of those things that's definitely a win-win for the local community and the health of the stream," Grenbemer said. "The kids are going to be able to look back on this work and see the positive impacts from their efforts."


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