December 24, 2008 Statesman Journal article


Students helping study water quality

They are sampling fish, small insects along Pringle Creek

James Santana • Special to the Statesman Journal

December 24, 2008

Not more than 30 years ago, streams in our area teemed with native fish. As development increased, so did our impact on nature; water quality declined, affecting sensitive in-stream insects, causing fish species such as salmon and trout to all but disappear.

Eighth-graders from Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School are investigating why.

Guided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the students have been sampling and comparing fish and macroinvertebrates in various sections of Pringle Creek.

Macroinvertebrates —the small insects living on rocks, leaves and other debris in streams — are the primary food source for native fish.

Take away the aquatic insects, which are vulnerable to toxicity and water quality, and the fish can’t survive.

Many factors contribute to poor water quality, from herbicides to oil dripping from cars. As cities expand, more rooftops, driveways and roads convey more toxins directly to streams, oftentimes through an extensive underground pipe and drain infrastructure. Even small doses of toxins carried by stormwater can kill the aquatic macroinvertebrates that fish rely upon.

The students are focusing on the relationship between fish and these macroinvertebrates by sampling different sections of Pringle Creek, from degraded, industrial zones to healthy, restored ecosystems such as along Pringle Creek Community, a low-impact residential development in South Salem.

The restored sections of Pringle Creek Community are the result of years of work by community members and students removing invasive weeds and establishing native plants. Students from Jane Goodall have volunteered at this site for a number of years.

The outcome of their restoration efforts were again validated recently when students captured and identified a healthy 11-inch cutthroat trout.

“It is rare to find a fish of this size in a suburban area,” said Karen Hans, STEP biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This section of Pringle Creek is an oasis for fish and macroinvertebrates.”

In fact, last year at the same location, Hans and the students had an even bigger find: a Coho salmon and a small trout fry.

“The Coho is significant,” said Hans, “because it indicates a certain degree of fish passage to the Willamette River, and the fry tells us fish are spawning here.”

Overall stream health has also been greatly enhanced by Pringle Creek Community’s all-porous street system, 12-acres of naturalized areas, and the preservation of mature trees. The result is more than 90 percent of rainfall is naturally filtered and absorbed back into the aquifer, which provides clean and cool water to Pringle Creek throughout the year.

The data gathered by these students will illustrate how restoration efforts can bring native fish back to urban streams.

“By doing this research, these students are getting a chance to help their community while learning environmental science,” said Marie Carver, who teaches biological science at JGEMS. “It’s a great mix.”

Upon completion, the students will present their findings to the Pringle Creek Watershed Council.

James Santana is Director of Community Development at Pringle Creek Community, and can be reached at or (503) 763-1770.

second photo in blog item with this caption

Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School students Hayley Hicks (from left), Gina Martinez, Soleil Bolduc and Connor Laffey record fish collection data with ODFW biologist Karen Hans (second from left), while instructor Marie Carver observes.