Keeping an eye on the White River

MEEKER | Long time Meeker physician and science teacher, Dr. Bob Dorsett, is a critical piece of the Colorado River Watch Program (CRW) regarding the White River. CRW was started more than 25 years ago as a statewide, volunteer water quality monitoring program coordinated and supported by the non-profit Colorado Watershed Assembly (CWA) in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
The volunteers like Dorsett measure water quality factors and other indicators of watershed health on a monthly basis and deliver their data to the partnership of CWA and CPW for the record, analysis and public availability. Due to the establishment of specific, consistent measurements and protocols, the program produces high quality data usable by water quality decision-makers like the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. The CWA-CPW partnership helps defray expenses for local volunteer efforts and otherwise provides the supportive framework for the program.
CRW set as its primary goals the collection of quality aquatic ecosystem data over space and time, and providing hands-on experience to individuals, especially students, understanding the value and function of river and stream ecosystems. The program’s motto is: “Real people doing real science for a real purpose.”
The volunteers collect samples for physical, biological, and chemical data components. Physical components, usually measured in the field on a monthly basis, include pH, dissolved oxygen, hardness, and alkalinity. Chemical data components, including aluminum, arsenic, calcium, cadmium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, lead, sodium, potassium, selenium and zinc are also collected monthly for total and dissolved metals analyses. Biological testing is largely done through macro invertebrate (big water bug) sampling in the early fall, indicating the health of the sampled area. In addition, twice a year, volunteers collect nutrient samples for analysis of total phosphorus, nitrate and nitrite, ammonia, chloride, sulfate, and total suspended solids.
Meeker High School chemistry and physical science instructor Bev Devore-Wedding, until she left to pursue her Ph.D. in science education at the University of Nebraska Lincoln three years ago, and Dorsett have been the leaders of the White River CRW effort. They started back in 1993, have provided the state with good data ever since, and always involve students who do some work with the data and their experience during school year science classes. Dorsett has one student assisting him in the effort this summer. Some of the sample analyses have to be done in a CPW laboratory in Denver.
Today, Dorsett, who many know now as a member of the Meeker Board of Education, operates the program out of and stores equipment at Meeker Public Library.
In April, the Herald Times reported on concern about the development of heavy green algae blooms in the river beginning at least 17 miles upriver the last three years. A well-attended public meeting on the matter, called by CPW in early April, suggested that the cause of the bloom has been increased nutrients in the river due to the compounding of a large variety of sources including the application of fertilizers to irrigated fields and private recreation areas, soil erosion and sloughing, fish feeding, livestock manure, and the proliferation of septic tank systems near the river.
Dorsett told the Herald Times that CPW, primarily in the person of Bailey Franklin, is in the process of getting more samples collected, and analyzing samples and data already available to the fish and wildlife agency. In the meantime, we reported in May that county commissioner Si Woodruff has taken a particular interest in the concern and is tracking CPW’s progress on their analysis. CPW has no regulatory jurisdiction on water quality, but is in a position to monitor river health for fisheries and wildlife, and make recommendations to local government.
Anyone interested in being involved in the River Watch Program can contact Dorsett, check out the program website at www.coloradoriverwatch.org, email riverwatch.wildlife@state.co.us, or call 303-291-7322. The Colorado Watershed Assembly website can also be pursued at www.coloradowater.org. Statewide, the Program has involved over 70,000 people testing some 900 sample points on 400 bodies of water. It is the largest statewide monitoring program in the U.S. Over 70 percent of the volunteers are student groups along with citizen and sportsmen’s organizations, individuals, colleges, youth programs, local governments and other non-profits.