Volunteers Minding Newtown's Stream Health
Paul Shafer slid into a booth at Village Perk Café in Sandy Hook. From a stuffed folder he pulled out a laminated sorting guide filled with mayfly and stonefly drawings, various forms of caddis, a fishfly, dragonfly, damselfly, and more macroinvertibrates.
He and other Candlewood Valley Trout Unlimited (CVTU) volunteers used that guide during an autumn water sampling in Newtown. Organisms found there help to determine stream health.
How did he find himself hunting through leaf debris and twigs from the stream bottom looking for tiny insect larvae?
"I raised my hand," he admitted. He had offered to take the lead for "macro" sampling, which the
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) then collects as part of its assessment to determine stream health, he said. "An indicator is the number of macros," Mr Shafer said.
He got involved because he wants to help. "Healthy streams equals lots of bugs and lots of food for trout," he said. He had attended a Trout Unlimited meeting "and felt I could make a contribution to the chapter and also benefit myself in my knowledge of macros."
DEEP provides volunteers with drawings of the least and most wanted insects. "We bottle what we find and send it to DEEP," he said. This fall, volunteers visited four sites along the Pootatuck River, starting at a location on Walnut Tree Hill Road, off Glen Road, at the mouth of Tom Brook past the Commerce Park cul-de-sac, and where the Pootatuck passes beneath Wasserman Way. They also sampled at Deep Brook and Pond Brook.
"The streams are healthy," according to preliminary findings, he said. Volunteers found a variety of the most- and moderately-wanted larvae, Mr Shafer said.
A board member with the CVTU, Joe Hovious sat across from Mr Shafer, and added, "The state will put out a report regarding the streams in Connecticut." The TU chapter started sampling in town in 2004 following a fuel oil spill at Fairfield Hills.
Streams in town are in good health, Mr Hovious said.
If a stream begins to deteriorate in quality and the temperature and oxygen levels change, the most sensitive life starts to die off, the two men agreed, and more crayfish, worms, and mussels begin to appear.
A healthy stream needs to be the right temperature year-round, "and can't dry out," Mr Shafer said, adding, "It needs a gravelly bottom where organisms live." The water needs to be "clear of chemicals and pollutants year-round, and frequently needs shade because the sun warms the water too much."
Mr Hovious said, "Things like run-off and silt" harm the stream environment. "It could smother the insects."
During the spring, Mr Shafer said volunteers will identify more stream locations and expand the program. He also hopes to involve students "and others from the community."
Watching "younger samplers - some want nothing to do with bugs, and others like it," Mr Hovious said.
Some samples "are really small, and others are two inches long," Mr Shafer said.
Reminding Mr Shafer of RBV, which is a phrase he had not said yet, the two men explained the meaning of Riffle-dwelling Benthic Macroinvertibrates: riffle means fast-moving, highly oxygenated parts of the stream, and benthic means bottom. The insect larvae are large enough to see, but contain no spine.
Mr Shafer enjoys the samplings. "We're looking in the net and don't see much, just leaf debris or gravel, then a piece of 'dirt' starts to move…" he said. The larvae are placed in trays for identification.
Samples then make their way to the DEEP for official classification and determinations for stream health.
"Cold water conservation is our mission," Mr Hovious said.
CVTU meets the second Wednesday of each month at 7 pm at Stony Hill Fire Department, 59 Stony Hill Road (Route 6) in Bethel. Pizza is served. New members are welcome.