Rock River gets CLEAR bill of health

• Students test river’s quality

Approximately 2,000 seventh grade students from Rockford Public Schools waded in the Rock River, counted insects and performed chemical tests to determine the Rock River’s quality this fall. At a forum Nov. 17, the students presented their results to representatives from the City of Rockford, Rock River Water Reclamation District and Aqua Aerobic Systems, Inc.

According to the students, the overall quality of the river is acceptable with regard to numbers of biological species that are indicators of the health of the river. The students also said phosphate, nitrate, oxygen, acidity/alkalinity and turbidity levels are generally acceptable.

However, students expressed concern about spikes in the nitrate and phosphate levels during certain periods that they attributed to agricultural run-off into the river’s tributaries.

Kelly Miller, a student at Flinn Middle School, explained the river’s turbidity level was “doing OK, but could be better.” Turbidity is a measure of a water’s clarity or numbers of suspended particles that absorb light.

Miller said the river’s turbidity was about one foot. High turbidity levels inhibit small plants from growing and reproducing, which negatively affects the river’s oxygen levels.

The students collected most of their samples at the water quality station at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. However, students from Lincoln Middle School also collected samples from Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park, Kent Creek, Spring Lake on Rockford’s northeast side and the Kishwaukee River.

Six groups of about five students from the Rockford Environmental Health Academy and West, Eisenhower, Flinn, Kennedy and Lincoln middle schools gave 3- to 4-minute presentations complete with poster boards.

Students at Kennedy Middle School picked up trash in the community on weekends as part of their efforts. Groups of students at Kennedy and Eisenhower said it was important to not throw trash because it affects the river’s quality through “die offs” of “indicator species” in the water.

The CLEAR project to evaluate the environmental health of the river was funded by a $100,000 grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, according to Lew Crampton, president of the Burpee Museum. CLEAR is an acronym for Collaboration Leading to Environmental Awareness in Rockford.

Crampton hopes the joint venture between the schools and the museum will continue. Funding for continuation of the project has yet to be secured.

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