A new group of river warriors trained this weekend in Tahlequah.
The Blue Thumb education program took place Friday and Saturday to educate and prepare volunteers for physical, biological and chemical monitoring as well as quality assurance and data interpretation of local streams. The Blue Thumb program is a “citizen scientist” program whose goal is to protect streams through proper education.
Cheryl Cheadle, Blue Thumb state coordinator, started the program in 1992 in Tulsa and after gaining popularity, became a statewide program. Blue thumb currently monitors six streams in Cherokee County, including Town Branch creek. Locally the program is sponsored by the Cherokee County Conservation District, City of Tahlequah, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and Save the Illinois River Inc.
The training covers; watersheds, stream ecology, pollutants, water conservation, field collections and water testing. After their two-day training period, volunteers are prepared to properly test and report on the health of the stream. Volunteers are provided with a test kit after completing training and take data monthly, report on it and even write data interpretations of their findings.
Cheadle said one of the main reasons for stream pollution is such a problem is due to a lack of proper education of what people can do to prevent it.
“People need to be aware that on their little patch of the earth, they can do things that benefit water quality,” Cheadle said. “There can be an interesting lack of awareness one people’s part that something they do in their yard can affect a nearby stream. I think if people could make that link to how their ”
A big concern and subject that is emphasized in the Blue Thumb training is how to maintain a healthy riparian system around the stream. The riparian system is the area that contains natural vegetation along the streams banks. Trees and grasses around streams help stabilize the area around streams, provide shade and structure for animals habitats and help filter out pollutants that flow into the stream. Cheadle said changes to the riparian zone causes problems on both the stream and wildlife in and around the stream.
“Municipalities love mowing right up to the water’s edge and it really does a disservice to stream,” Cheadle said. “It allows things to sweep into there and can create an erosion issue.
Blue Thumb also focuses on informing people about non-point source pollution and how to reduce it. Non-point source pollution is any non-regulated source of water pollution, and according to Blue Thumb is one of the nation’s leading cause of water pollution. Quality Assurance Officer Kim Shaw has been with Blue Thumb for 11 years and said a lack of education about non-point source pollution is why it continues to be such a problem.
“Most people don’t realize that all storm drains go into the nearest creek,” Shaw said. “Another thing people do is fertilize their lawn right before a rain because they think it will infiltrate it into their lawn but it really just washes it off, into the street and down a storm drain. If you car is leaking fluids those can drain off into storm drains as well.”
People wanting to volunteer or get information on Blue Thumb can visit www.bluethumbok.com.