This article was written by our Summer 2021 intern, Caitlin Jurcago.
The Cleveland Metroparks has set out on a summer-long mission to assess over one hundred streams within the park system to gain insights on the health of the ecosystems. Claire Weldon, an Aquatic Research Coordinator for the parks, is leading the effort through utilizing the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI), which is based on criterion for both the physical and biological conditions of a particular stream. My fellow interns and I from West Creek Conservancy had the amazing opportunity to assist Claire on three stream assessments within the temperate oasis of South Chagrin Reservation.
To begin the analysis, a snapshot of each stream of two hundred meters was designated as the area for evaluation. Basic measurements were then taken to get the physical metes and bounds of the stream, such as the width of the channel, deepest pool depth, and substrate material.
While the rocks in the stream don’t move, all of the little critters sure do, which makes looking for biological indicators of stream health trickier. To begin the investigation we checked under and in the crevices of the stream rocks for any residencies of salamanders, frogs, or fish. The two main salamander species we discovered in these streams were the northern dusky and the northern two lined. Along with salamanders, we also surveyed each stream for macroinvertebrates such as crawfish, stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies.
Both the physical and biological characteristics reveal information on the health of the stream and its accompanying ecosystem. The physical conditions can indicate any erosion patterns as well as nearby land use. The presence of pools within and near streams is important as they can serve as essential breeding habitats for amphibians like salamanders, which are indicators of good water quality. The macroinvertebrates that we found present in the streams of South Chagrin Reservation are also known indicators of a healthy stream.
Healthy streams are the building blocks to a healthy watershed, as streams are what foster larger bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. Streams on their own have crucial functions within a watershed which include providing wildlife habitats, flood protection, and drinking water supplies, which is why it is important to protect and restore those that we can! Conducting stream assessments with Claire for just one day provided a new perspective on watershed health, which is one that starts small — with the little creatures that call streams home.