River paddlers recruited for conservation efforts

News Reporter

The Texas Stream Team is expanding its preservation and protection program by asking paddlers to collect samples from streams and rivers for research.

The program, which is a part of research efforts by the Meadows Center for Water & the Environment, is recruiting canoeists and kayakers to help monitor water quality around the state. The “paddlers project” is being created to educate citizens on the quality of their local streams and rivers while providing consistent data on certain aquatic regions, said Travis Tidwell, Texas Stream Team monitoring program coordinator.

“We wanted to introduce a new audience to citizen science,” Tidwell said. “Paddlers are in a great position to notice changes in water quality because they’re on the same stretch of water all the time, so we figured, why not ask them to take samples for us?”

Paddlers will collect water samples from hard-to-reach and, in some cases, previously unmonitored areas after completing training for the program, Tidwell said. The team will measure PH and oxygen levels, temperature and conductivity using water quality monitoring equipment. Paddlers will take samples to observe the clarity, color and depth of the river as well.

The team hopes to have groups scheduled to go out on a monthly basis beginning this spring, Tidwell said.

“The paddlers project has taken a program that’s over two decades old—the oldest of its kind in the Texas—and given it new life,” Townsend said.

The data will be recorded and sent to the Meadows Center to be reviewed by a quality assurance monitor and posted to the team’s online data viewer.  The data collected will be useful for protection efforts, Tidwell said.

“The data that’s collected can be used for things like the San Marcos Watershed Initiative, where we’re working on a watershed protection plan to improve the water quality in San Marcos and keep standards high,” Tidwell said.

The combination of paddling and citizen science is a natural fit for outdoors enthusiasts, said Shane Townsend, senior program advisor for the Meadows Center.

There is a “huge” paddling community in Texas that cares about water quality and its preservation, Townsend said. There are scientists who are interested in paddling as well, and the event creates a “perfect meeting ground.”

The Texas Stream Team is currently working with paddling clubs in New Braunfels and Austin to create plans to monitor the Guadalupe River, Lake Dunlap and Lake Buchanan, Tidwell said.

Paddlers will join students and residents such as water resources senior Maxwell Ray, who has collected data from the San Marcos River every month for the last two years. Ray is one of nearly 8,000 citizens who have volunteered for the Texas Stream Team since it began monitoring the state’s water resources 23 years ago.

“I think it’s the community’s responsibility to protect their water quality,” Ray said.

“If you can’t rally behind that, what can you get behind?”

Paddlers are required to take an online safely course, and the stream team is available to educate participants on the proper scientific practices to use when testing water samples, Townsend said.

“If you’re a student who owns a canoe or kayak, we can help you find a local chapter, or you can get together with some friends and form your own,” Townsend said.