Adopt a cat, dog, or stream....

Streams need your lovin'

Did you know that streams need tender loving care? Someone to note what is beautiful about them or if there is an ailment that needs healed? Someone to give them regular checkups, understand their normal behavior? Someone to sing their praises?

Well, streams do need this kind of loving, and there is a pretty good chance that no one is looking after a stream that you may already adore or have noticed passing by. Environmental agencies and municipalities cannot be everywhere, and most of our backyard streams are not monitored regularly, if at all. Regular monitoring of our water resources is critical: the water that comes out of your faucet begins as rain or snow and makes its way through the ground, streams, lakes, and rivers. Aquatic critters and wildlife also depend on clean water, as well as those of us that enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating.

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Money and Happiness

A beautiful stream is both an economic and mental health asset. High quality streams are scenic. They enhance the beauty of a neighborhood, which increases the value and desirability for both homeowners and people that may want to purchase a home. The cleaner our water is in nature, the less expensive treatment costs are for making it fit to come out of our faucets too. Healthy streams also provide opportunities for recreation- good fishing, kayaking, swimming. There is hard evidence that beautiful nature scenes help to calm us and improve our well-being. Can’t put a price tag on feeling good!

You are empowered to improve water quality!

This leads us to Adopting a stream. What does this mean? Whatever you are willing to do to keep an eye on a stream in your area. Simply observing things on streams is valuable. Citizens can help map spread out problems to create a complete picture of a watershed. This makes it easier to prioritize issues so that effective solutions can be put in place, and to protect areas of value. There are several things you can do to help, and you can choose what works best for your lifestyle and availability.



Streambank erosion. Stuff we want to know about!

Streambank erosion. Stuff we want to know about!

Recording the good, bad, and the ugly: take notes and photos of areas with a lot of beauty, fish, wildlife; also bad things like bank erosion, illegal dumping, invasive vegetation. You can do this for free with the Water Reporter app, and reporting these issues to your home municipality.


Water quality monitoring: you do not have to be a scientist to test water quality. Anyone with an interest can learn how to test stream water and record what you discover. Things like pH, conductivity, flow rate, temperature, and aquatic bugs are important to establishing the health of a stream.


Removing trash from streams is important AND fun.

Removing trash from streams is important AND fun.

Organize a stream cleanup event: grab some friends, or try advertising on social media, school, or work. Your municipality may also be willing to help collect the trash at the end of the day. 

Join or create a watershed group: if there is a watershed group in your area, consider joining. Working in a group can magnify your efforts and you may meet new friends. No watershed group in your area? It only takes a few people to get it going, and we can help.


Clean up dog poo and you will be helping to protect drinking water.

Clean up dog poo and you will be helping to protect drinking water.

Simple practices at home: if everyone does a little, we can all do a lot. Things like cleaning up after your dog, not mowing up to your streambank to reduce bank erosion, reducing/eliminating fertilizer and pesticide use on your property, and not throwing trash down the storm drain will all help the streams we all depend on.

Spread the good word: tell others about what you know. “Hey, don’t throw trash down the storm drain.” “Clean up after your dog.” “Did you know that mowing right up to a streambank is bad news bears? Consider planting trees there.” Education is powerful.


Give us a holler if you want to better understand how you can adopt a stream!


Panther Hollow is a Scud Sanctuary: Notes on underwater insects

What are macroinvertebrates and why should we care?

A macroinvertebrate is an insect that lives in water for part or all of its life. Did you know that the black fly, dragonfly, and crane fly begin their lives in the stream? You may also recognize the names of other residents- mayflies, caddisflies, and crayfish. Macroinvertebrates are important in understanding a complete picture of the health of a stream. Certain critters can live only in healthy water, others in water that’s ‘not bad’ to ‘meh’, and others that do not mind the living in the equivalent of a rundown motel. Things like pollution and the presence or absence of trees and shrubs affect the health of a stream.



Macroinvertebrates that need simply the best: Mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, dobsonflies, water pennies

Macroinvertebrates that can hang in a wide range of conditions: crayfish, craneflies, scuds, sowbugs, dragonflies

Macros that do not mind much: midges, aquatic worms, blackflies  

Splashing Around

This November, the Senior Environment Corps (SEC) sampled Phipps Run and Panther Hollow Run in Schenley Park to check out their macroinvertebrate communities. SEC volunteers have been monitoring the chemical and physical stream conditions in Schenley Park these past few months, but Fall calls for taking a closer look at stream dwelling critters.


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Sampling for these stream dwelling insects in spring and autumn is critical for understanding stream health. While chemical sampling is a very important part of monitoring, it only provides a snapshot of stream conditions. Macroinvertebrates are surrounded by water day and night, and do not move very much. Their presence is much more telling of longer-term water health.


What did the SEC find? Nuthin but scuds. A scud is a macroinvertebrate related to crayfish and shrimps. It is easy to identify these little buggers after you have seen them a few times because of their classic side swimming moves.


Scuds on scuds! Panther Hollow, Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

Scuds on scuds! Panther Hollow, Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

Scuds can be found in a range of water quality conditions, including polluted waters. The biggest problem in finding so many scuds is not necessarily their stream health status, but the fact that they are the only ones living in these streams. Variety is the spice of life, and having stream critter community with one type of critter is bad news. This shows that conditions might not be so great for other critters to thrive, or that there is a lack of access/conductivity to these streams. All of the streams in Allegheny County have been impacted by development activities- roads, houses, businesses, pollution- and macroinvertebrates help to tell the story of these impacts.


What can be done?

Everyone plays a part in improving water quality

Do not dump anything down storm drains

Clean up pet waste

Do not litter

Plant trees and shrubs

Make a change in your personal care products (shampoo, hand soap)

Join a watershed group or start your own

Properly dispose of household waste and pharmaceuticals

Spread the good word!