Fourth- and fifth-graders in Gillman City got interested in the prairie stream near their school because endangered Topeka shiners lived there. Once they got their feet wet, there was no turning back. “They said that they were going to make things shine over there,” recalls retired teacher Charles Jennings, who helped start the team. “That’s why they called themselves the beacons.” With support from their principal and school superintendent, they set about making Sugar Creek as clean as possible. They removed trash and got enthusiastic support from neighboring landowners and county officials to stop dumping. Then they began water-quality testing. They learned that muddy run-off from farmland was Sugar Creek’s biggest problem. “What they learn in just a few hours would take an enormous time to teach from a text book,” said Jennings, “and even then they wouldn’t understand the way they do after learning it hands-on.”
Do streams get down in the dumps? You bet! Discarded refuse can have devastating effects on stream quality and wildlife. Besides the obvious visual impact of cans, used tires and old refrigerators floating in streams, everything from toxic plastic chemicals to pesticide residue leaches out of dumps, impairing aquatic animals’ health and making fish unwholesome to eat. If you see dumping on a conservation area, report it to the nearest Conservation Department office. County officials want to know about dumps developing along their roads, too. Dumpers might be surprised to discover that hefty fines can result from their bad habits.
Any pond can turn muddy after a heavy rain. In some ponds, however, muddiness is a persistent problem that requires corrective action to keep fish populations healthy. To discover why your pond is murky, collect a sample of water in a clean, half-gallon glass jar. Label the jar with the collection date and put it on a shelf where it won’t be disturbed. If it clears in a week or two, the problem probably is wave action, soil erosion in the watershed or disturbance by bottom-feeding fish, muskrats or other wildlife. If the murk doesn’t settle, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar. If the sample clears overnight, your problem likely is water chemistry and soil type. This problem often responds well to the treatment outlined on Page 53 of the Missouri Pond Handbook. The booklet is available online. Printed copies are available on request from Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Pond Handbook, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180. Or by e-mailing email@example.com.
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