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The Streams Project - Research

Main Questions:
1) How does water quality change in response to precipitation events? How do land use patterns affect the physical condition of and water quality in streams?
2) How do macroinvertebrate communities differ in Vermont streams and what do they tell us about stream water quality?
3) How is Vermont's changing climate affecting Vermont streams?

What We Measure:


  • In the Field
    • Monitoring Precipitation
      • CoCoRaHS is a community-based network of citizen scientists interested in observing, measuring and mapping precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their own backyards. Participants use a low-cost rain gauge to measure precipitation each time a storm event crosses the area. Data are immediately displayed for a variety of end-users, including The National Weather Service, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities (water supply, water conservation, storm water), insurance adjusters, USDA, engineers, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, outdoor & recreation interests, teachers, students, and more.
        CoCoRaHS Precipitation Monitoring Form

    • General Stream Site Assessment
      • The immediate surrounding landscape and the physical characteristics of the stream reach are reported to provide a general description of the site. Observations and measurements include bank full width, sediment substrate quality, thalweg, and the perceived impact of local land use. This assessment is completed one time prior to beginning water quality sampling.
        Stream Site Assessment and Thalweg Measurement Form
    • Water Chemistry
      • Stream water samples are taken for total phosphorus (TP) and total nitrogen (TN) concentrations and total suspended solids (TSS). Blanks are taken for TN and TP. Samples are stored on ice during transportation and are refrigerated or frozen until analyzed.
        Group A: Water Chemistry Form
        Group B: Water Chemistry Form
    • Discharge
    • Soil Sampling
      • Soil samples are taken to see how phosphorus concentrations change from the upland areas through the riparian corridor to the edge of the stream. Soil sampling transects run perpendicular from the stream.
        Group A: Soil Sampling Form
    • Macroinvertebrates
      • Benthic macroinvertebrates are collected from a representative riffle in the stream reach by the hand-scrub method according to protocols used by the Biomonitoring and Aquatic Studies Section of the VT Department of Environmental Conservation. Samples are collected once during the late summer/early fall during dry conditions to serve as a 'baseline' sample, and three times bracketing a fall storm event:
        • A: As soon as possible (and safe) following the storm
        • B: One week after sampling date A above
        • C: Two weeks after sampling date A above

        Group B: Benthic Macroinvertebrate Habitat Field Data Form
        Group B: Macroinvertebrate Lab Data Form

    • In the Water Quality Lab - The water quality labs at Johnson State College and Saint Michael's College train undergraduates in basic laboratory procedures and water quality assays while maintaining a high quality dataset. Undergraduates analyze stream water samples collected from the field under the direction of the Research Technicians and faculty mentors.
      • Total Phosphorus
        • At Johnson State College, samples are analyzed for total phosphorus via a persulfate digestion followed by analysis for orthophosphate concentration using the ascorbic acid reduction method on a UV 1800 spectrophotometer. This assay was adapted from "Standard Methods". The concentration of total phosphorus is measured in µg/L.
      • Total Suspended Solids (TSS)
        • At Saint Michael's College, TSS is measured according to method 2540 D of the Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater. A known volume of water is run through a 0.45 µml filter. Solids collected on the filter cause a change in filter weight that is reported as total solids in mg/L.


      • In the Macroinvertebrate Lab - The macroinvertebrate lab trains undergraduate students in the sampling, preservation, and identification of aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate specimens common to streams of the northeastern United States. Students analyze samples with the goal of identifying most specimens to genus. However, due to the complexity associated with their identification, the Chironomid order and many worms are only identified to family. The "Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates of the Upper Midwest" and "An Introduction of the Aquatic Insects of North America" are the most commonly used keys.
        • The primary indices used to assess the health of macroinvertebrate communities are:
          • Total Abundance
          • Species Richness
          • Dominance
          • Evenness
          • EPT Richness
          • EPT Abundance
          • Abundance of hydropyschid caddisflies

          Calculation of Metrics Form