ISU students to monitor campus impact on water


Courtesy of Hannah Julich

Mary Skopec, Iowater trainer from Iowa Department of Natural Resources, trains ISU students Win Cowger, Zachary Schlake and Ethan Rietz on checking the water quality of the streams on campus. 

Justin Lo

Students in the Science of the Environment and Sustainable Systems Learning Community project are participating in the Iowater Monitoring Program, a volunteer water monitoring effort by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They are investigating Iowa State’s impact on the quality of water flowing from campus after ice has melted from the waterways.

The group of 28 students in teams of 3 to 4 people will take water samples from eight testing locations throughout Clear, Squaw and College creeks and monitor the activity of these waterways monthly. They will be joined by Hannah Julich, David Green and the learning community’s peer mentors.

One site is located at a spot where water begins to enter the ISU campus to provide a baseline for the data, two sites are located off-campus after the water has gone through campus and the other five sites are scattered throughout campus.

Each testing location will have its water flow measured and each water sample will be analyzed for nitrates, oxygen levels, clarity and other water quality parameters. The water flow and habitat identification of each testing location will be recorded as well.

This project is a part of a two-semester sequence of courses for students in the learning community. Although work on the project has not started yet due to the icy conditions of the waterways, the students underwent training last semester and are all formal Iowater volunteers.

“The students are involved in this for several reasons,” said Julich, a graduate assistant in ecology, evolution and organismal biology and the instructor of the courses.

Julich said that the students will receive hands-on experience in water quality monitoring; become more connected to campus, Ames and surrounding communities and build partnerships within the university and the Ames community.

“They’re participating in the Iowater program as part of these courses on behalf of ISU but are also formal Iowater volunteers,” said David Green, graduate assistant in ecology, evolution and organismal biology. “They received the formal set of training that all Iowater volunteers are receiving including safety training and sampling protocols.”

The idea for this project began when a peer mentor for the learning community suggested that this would be a great service and learning opportunity for students. Iowa State’s Department of Environmental Health & Safety was supportive about this project and helped provide the students with equipment and advice.

“Hannah Julich really just ran with it and set up the Iowater training and basically organized the entire endeavor,” Green said.

The main objective of this program is to begin keeping a record of what happens to water as it flows through campus. Over time, these records will show if Iowa State is impacting on the local water quality.

“As a campus, we are not allowed to have an impact on our water quality,” Julich said. “This will help the Iowa State Department of Environmental Health & Safety with their monitoring and this just adds to their pool of data to make sure we are meeting our mandate and we are being responsible as a campus.”

Julich and Green partnered with the Iowa State Department of Environmental Health & Safety, the Iowa State Wetlands Research Lab and the Iowater program.

“Each incoming freshman class will collect a new set of data to add to the old set of data which then will be presented upon by each class each year,” Green said.