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Juniata College Researchers Monitor Spruce Creek

(Posted July 22, 2002)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College is trying to hook some of its science majors on field research by starting a stream-monitoring project along five miles of Spruce Creek, one of Pennsylvania's top trout streams.

The research project, led by Ryan Mathur, assistant professor of geology, and Juniata student Evan Teeters, a junior from Huntingdon, Pa. majoring in environmental science and geology, will monitor a variety of water quality factors through daily testing. The research team will monitor the stream for increased levels of nitrates and phosphates, as well as the amount of dissolved solids (which determines how "hard" water is), turbidity (how much silt and soil is in the water), temperature and stream flow.

"In the past, the college has done several water quality assessments at Raystown Lake, but this is the first time we have started a long-term project on a local stream," explains Mathur. "We hope this initial study will inspire other science students to use our testing sites for other projects such as insect population studies and other biological projects."

The study, which is sponsored by the Colerain Fishing Club, Spruce Creek Outfitters, Spruce Creek Lodge, the Geological Society of America and Juniata College, will continue throughout the 2002-2003 academic year, although Mathur predicts the project will almost certainly extend beyond one year in order to establish a database for this part of the Spruce Creek watershed.

Spruce Creek is a world-renowned trout stream where fly fishermen and bait casters come from across the nation to reel in the brown and rainbow trout commonly found in the stream. Although some parts of the stream are open for public fishing, much of its prime fishing area is owned privately, either by fishing clubs or owners who market the fishing rights to guides or fishing clubs.

"We are interested in studying this stream not only because it's an important fishing stream, but also because it impacts the Little Juniata River, the Juniata River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay watershed," says Allan Bright, owner of Spruce Creek Outfitters. "Most of the 14-miles of Spruce Creek is in private hands, which is why this project is so important, because it's difficult to get permission from various owners to monitor."

Testing for levels of nitrates and phosphates (often called "nutrient levels') are an indication of how agricultural practices are affecting Spruce Creek. As farms increase the size of livestock herds or flocks to remain competitive, animals produce more manure than is required to fertilize crops. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in manure and commercial fertilizers can leach off agricultural lands into nearby streams. High levels of nitrates can cause water contamination and other problems. High levels of phosphates stimulates growth of weeds and algae, which, when the plant material dies and decomposes, in turn depletes the amount of oxygen available for fish.

Mathur and Teeters started the project in June and have not seen any major increase in nutrient levels, although typically farms apply fertilizers or manure in early spring and in the fall. Teeters will take samples daily from seven spots along the Spruce Creek watershed throughout the upcoming 2002-2003 academic year. "I hope to continue this project next year," Teeters says. "Streams are monitored at different times by the state's Department of Environmental Protection, but they often don't have the time or funding to continuously monitor a watershed. Juniata has given me a chance to establish a database of information on a great trout stream. If I wasn't monitoring the stream, I'd be out here fishing anyway."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.