Sherry Fischer: It seems like there's water everywhere, and we really don't need to worry about it. It's very prevalent. 71 percent of the planet is water. You know, you look at the pictures of the earth from space and it's blue because there's so much water. But 97 percent of that is saltwater in the oceans. Two percent of that is frozen, so it's in glaciers and icecaps. Only one percent of that is what's available for all humanity for our personal use, for agriculture, residential, manufacturing, communities, you name it. So if you took all the water in the world and put it in a gallon jug, one teaspoon would be the amount of freshwater that's available to us to use. So it's a very limited resource that we do take for granted, and we have to take care of it.
[Exotic bird noises.]
Jill Pritchard: Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Nature Boost. I'm Jill Pritchard. In keeping with the theme of nature and health, we can't leave out water. It's one of the most important resources on earth, and like my guest, Sherry Fischer, was explaining, water is precious and not as abundant as some may believe. We use water so much that it's become second nature.
[Sound of water pouring out of a faucet.]
We drink it, we bathe in it, we use it to grow our food. We even plan our vacations around water.
[Sound of waves and people.]
Water keeps us healthy. That's nothing new. But research is also showing us that just being around water helps our mental health by reducing stress and anxiety. So how are we returning the favor? What should we be doing to keep our local water systems healthy? Take a listen as I get down to brass tacks with Sherry.
So healthy water today!
Sherry Fischer: Yay! Water, water!
Jill Pritchard: Yes. OK, so Sherry Fischer with MDC. You are the Stream and Watershed Chief.
Sherry Fischer: That's right.
Jill Pritchard: OK, so you've been here with MDC for 30 years. You're definitely passionate about healthy water. And I think this is such a cool topic because I don't the many people realize how important our water systems are and where we're getting, you know, that journey from river or stream to faucet. Many people actually get their drinking water from our major rivers.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, absolutely. It's something that we so much take for granted, especially here in Missouri and the Midwest. We have most of the time, unless it's a severe drought year, we have plenty of water. So, we're not worried about it. Most of our water is healthy. So yeah, we turn on the faucet. What comes out is clean water. And everything that happens between where it came in from surface water or ground water until then, we completely, you know, that's not in our mind at all.
Jill Pritchard: No.
Sherry Fischer: We totally take that for granted.
Jill Pritchard: Oh, especially for how much we use it every single day. I mean showers, flushing the toilet, brushing our teeth.
Sherry Fischer: Yup.
Jill Pritchard: Washing our dishes, I mean we could go on and on and on about how much we use our water every day.
Sherry Fischer: Everything we do all day long, yeah. So, 90 percent of all Americans, including Missourians, get, um, water from a public water supply. Uh, and so that's about 80 percent of those water supplies taking from surface water, so either rivers, streams or lakes, and about 20 percent coming from ground water. So . . .
Jill Pritchard: So just a small percent, really, coming from thing ground - and surface water, like you say, the rivers and streams and lakes, that's insane!
Sherry Fischer: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: And what, 80 percent?
Sherry Fischer: 80 percent, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so you know, here we're in Jefferson City here. When you drive across the Missouri River, most of the people in this community are getting their drinking water, all of their water, from the Missouri River. And some of the outskirts of town get, have ground water supply wells. Um, and then you know, people in rural areas have private wells, too. But yeah, clean water is something we completely take for granted.
Jill Pritchard: Earlier, we were touching on some pollutants that make our water unhealthy. So, let's discuss a little bit more about that. We see the "Big Muddy." That's not what . . .
Sherry Fischer: Right.
Jill Pritchard: ... we're getting through our faucet, you know. And also, what we think is healthy water and what our wildlife thinks is healthy, two kind of separate things.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, totally different. And so, you mentioned the Big Muddy. And actually, that's the nickname for the Missouri River. But actually, it has a lot less sediment in it now than it used to historically. So, before it was, um, straightened and channelized and had wings and dikes, and it flowed back and forth and wound all through that flood plain, it actually had a lot more sediment in it than it does now. Um, so a lot of times we look at water, and if it has sediment in it, if it's muddy, we think of it as not being as clean. But like you said, not for wildlife. And you know, our north Missouri streams, just, they're different than our Ozark clear streams. They carry more sediment because there's more deeper soils in that area. And it's just, it's very natural. A lot of times we also make the mistake of thinking that if it's clear, it's clean.
Jill Pritchard: Right.
Sherry Fischer: And that's not always the case. There can be pollutants in crystal clear water that you just don't see. But actually, our number one pollutant in the state, actually in the nation, is sediment, is soil.
Jill Pritchard: And why is that?
Sherry Fischer: Well, you know, you think about the erosion that's happening everywhere all across the landscape. 30 years ago, the majority of that erosion did come from agricultural areas. But over the last 30 years, we have implemented so many best management practices to help improve and reduce soil loss, a lot of that is now more concentrated in urban areas with development going on. So, you know, the water that runs across the landscape collects that soil in it, and then we end up with streams that have more sediment in it than what they're used to. And that can cause a lot of different things. In the summer, um, it can cause the water temperatures to be higher because the soil particles that are in the water absorb the heat more.
Jill Pritchard: Oh, OK.
Sherry Fischer: So, you know, all different things that tie together can then impact water quality for the aquatic organisms that live in those streams.
Jill Pritchard: Oh my gosh, wow.
Sherry Fischer: [Laughing.]
Jill Pritchard: And again, it's just, I mean I'm sure in your line of work you realize not a lot of people think about this stuff all the time.
Sherry Fischer: Right, right.
Jill Pritchard: You know? And so it is, it's so important not only for human health, but for wildlife, the health of wildlife and the health of our plants and trees and all of that.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. Yeah, every year in the state of Missouri, we lose about 55 million tons of sediment.
Jill Pritchard: [Whispering.] Oh my gosh.
Sherry Fischer: And that is, you know, OK that's quite a big number. How do you wrap your mind around that?
Jill Pritchard: Right!
Sherry Fischer: That is enough soil to fill I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis, all four lanes, 30 feet deep. And that's every year. That's a lot of soil.
Jill Pritchard: That's insane. That's massive.
Sherry Fischer: And then, you know, it's wintertime now. We had some snow yesterday, and ice last night.
Jill Pritchard: Right.
Sherry Fischer: And you think about the salt products that where putting on the roadways.
Jill Pritchard: That's so true.
Sherry Fischer: Just so that we can get around and be safe. But those add a lot of chlorides to our stream systems during the winter months, too. So, everything that we are constantly doing impacts water quality. Even some of the things that you do, you might not think about. Like your lawn if you fertilize or use pesticides or herbicides, all those things can have an impact. And so it's not necessarily recommending not using those things, but using them according to the label directions, not using them, you know, right before it's going to rain. Um, being smart about the things that you use.
Jill Pritchard: Oh, absolutely. And you even mentioned our car use, how that can play a role.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, even something that you don't think about, a small thing like oil or other fluids that might drip out of your car, antifreeze, you know, those things end up on the roadways and a parking lot. Then after it rains, all those things get washed down the storm drain. A lot of people think that storm water goes to a wastewater treatment plant and is filtered and cleaned. And that's not the case. It all goes straight into our waterways.
Jill Pritchard: On the flip side of that, we have this thing called "indicator species." And so, we can calculate just how healthy our waters are by what type of wildlife we find in them?
Sherry Fischer: We can, and it's so easy. And so, it's kind of like you think about the canary in a coalmine kind of scenario. And so, what we do is we look for aquatic organisms that live in the streams that give us an indication of whether the water quality is good or bad or somewhere in between. And the thing that we use that works the best are called aquatic macro invertebrates. So, if we kind of break that down, aquatic, they live in the water. Macro, they're big enough you can see them with your naked eye. And invertebrates, they don't have a backbone.
So, these are, um, actually organisms that live, most of them, only a portion of their life in the water. Then they have a life cycle that they emerge and fly around in the summer, things that we recognize more readily like dragonflies and damsel flies, mayflies. So, kind of like the life cycle, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, they're going through the same kind of cycle.
Jill Pritchard: Also, working at MDC I hear a lot about hellbenders.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, yeah. So, there are a lot of species that are more sensitive to water pollution, hellbenders being one of them. So, we're looking at the aquatic macro invertebrates, some of which are more sensitive to water pollution than others. And then we can identify them, categorize them, and actually give a ranking for the water quality in that stream.
Jill Pritchard: So, you've done that research. So, can you comment on, you know, what are some of our more healthy rivers and streams are in Missouri because of those indicator species?
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, yeah. So actually, many, many of our streams throughout the state are in really good condition.
Jill Pritchard: [Whispering.] That's good.
Sherry Fischer: We do have some troublespots, but we're working on those and trying to sample and find out what the pollutants are. Um, some of those streams go on a special list with the Department of Natural Resources so that they can have a recovery team to help come up with ideas on recovering the water quality in that watershed. But for the most part, our water quality in the state is really good.
Jill Pritchard: That's so promising. That's so great to hear.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. We're very, very lucky.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. Because again, we, it's such a vital resource. And um, we depend on it not only for our health, uh, but also our recreation as well.
Sherry Fischer: Oh yeah, yeah. Floating, swimming, boating, fishing, you know, all those things that we love to do all throughout the year, but especially in the summer months, is all relying on that clean water.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, absolutely. A big part of your job is the Stream Teams.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah!
Jill Pritchard: And that program, again, I didn't know about this until I started working with MDC recently. And it's such an incredible initiative. So, let's touch on that and how they're doing their part to keep our rivers and streams healthy.
Sherry Fischer: OK. Well, in it's simplest form, Stream Team is just a network of people that care about Missouri streams. So, they generally adopt a segment of stream and then do different projects to help improve and protect that, um, area. It's a cooperative program between the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Conservation Confederation of Missouri. And we work together to try and provide all the resources that teams need to help get their projects done. They can remove trash and litter from streams. Um, they can monitor water quality. We teach courses that teach you how to identify those macro invertebrates, um, so that you can monitor water quality and monitor the chemistry. Um, they do storm drain stenciling, marking storm drains with a message that says, "Dump no waste. Streams to stream." All sorts of educational things, um, tree planting. It really kind of depends on what your stream needs, and then we try to line you out with the resources to do the projects that you want to get done.
Jill Pritchard: I love that there is such a variety of things that you can do.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, yeah. It's like a smorgasbord, really. And the teams, a lot of times, are the ones that come with ideas for new activities. Like we want to be able to do this. And we're like, OK. How do we make that happen?
Jill Pritchard: Oh, that's great that they even have their own voices, and you know, they play a role in that.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: And this is a huge network of volunteers.
Sherry Fischer: It is. So, we have over 5900 Stream Teams in the state. Over 4700 of those are active. Um, we estimate there's about usually 20 members per team, although teams come in all different sizes. But that's hundreds of thousands of Missourians that, you know, have signed up because they care enough to volunteer and give their time and work to improve streams.
Jill Pritchard: Absolutely. And again, that's just so heartwarming that, you know, they are all coming together for the greater good, and you know, for that one common goal.
Sherry Fischer: Yes.
Jill Pritchard: I just think that's incredible.
Sherry Fischer: Oh, the volunteers are amazing. It's just an absolute honor to be able to work with them.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah.
Sherry Fischer: Very dedicated.
Jill Pritchard: And you can come from any walk of life as part of the team purpose.
Sherry Fischer: Oh, yeah. And you know, some of the teams do have a science background or kind of a love for that thing. But all different walks of life. Sometimes this is the activity that gives people a chance to connect with nature because they don't, you know, in really their everyday life.
Jill Pritchard: Oh, I love that. I just think that's great. So, give us some more facts about the Stream Team.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. So, in the 30 years of the Stream team program, they have removed over 12-and-a-half-thousand tons of trash.
Jill Pritchard: OK, and so you say ton, and I always think elephants weigh, what, one ton?
Sherry Fischer: Well, a ton is 2000 pounds.
Jill Pritchard: So, 2000 pounds.
Sherry Fischer: So, yeah. So, break that down into pounds, that's a lot of pounds of trash, right? [Laughing.]
Jill Pritchard: I don't even, it's massive. It's incredible.
Sherry Fischer: They have planted almost 350,000 trees, stenciled almost, um, well just over 19,000 storm drains, conducted over 31,000 water quality monitoring trips. It's a total over the years of over three million hours of volunteer time.
Jill Pritchard: Oh my gosh.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah!
Jill Pritchard: It's almost, you can't even imagine that much time.
Sherry Fischer: Right.
Jill Pritchard: And I'm not sure if we mentioned this, but they celebrated their 30 year anniversary.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, 30 years this year. So, the program started in 1989. Um, we had a celebration at Echo Bluff State Park back in November. Lots of Stream Teams came out to spend some time together celebrating their accomplishments, took a little float on the Current River, because you can't scare Stream Teams away with a little cold weather.
Jill Pritchard: [Laughing.]
Sherry Fischer: So yeah, just enjoying the accomplishments they've had throughout the years.
Jill Pritchard: So how can people get involved with this?
Sherry Fischer: So, we have a website, um, mostreamteam.org, ORG, and that's all one word, all lower case, mostreamteam. Um, all of our resources are on there. You can sign up to be a team. You can find out about trainings and workshops that we're holding, lots of educational resources, our annual reports that show our accomplishments, just you name it A to Z, it's kind of a one-stop-shop for a lot of good information.
Jill Pritchard: I would definitely love to come on one of these just to . . .
Sherry Fischer: Yeah! Yeah, we need to get you out there!
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, I would love to. I think it's just such a great program. And you know, 30 years, that is such a huge accomplishment. And especially whenever you put everything down into the numbers.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: You know, and how many man-hours.
Sherry Fischer: And you know, some of our first Stream Teams that signed on are still active.
Jill Pritchard: That's great!
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. It's not like it just wanes over time. Some of them are actually our most active.
Jill Pritchard: I just love that! That's pure dedication right there.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: And that's the passion.
Sherry Fischer: Oh, yeah.
Jill Pritchard: That's what I love. And again, it's not just the Stream Teams, but I feel like that's what, um, I find as a newcomer to MDC. A lot of people - pretty much everyone is just so passionate. And it's just so refreshing to come across people who are so willing to work together, you know, again for that one main goal.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, we all pulled together our own areas of expertise, um, to get the job done and make improvements on the landscape.
Jill Pritchard: We talked about where you can get involved with the Stream Teams. But if people want to dive deeper into our watersheds and keeping our water healthy, do you have any resources to recommend?
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. There's, well there's so many good resources out there on the internet nowadays.
Jill Pritchard: [Laughing.]
Sherry Fischer: But Stream Teams United, which is our statewide not for profit group, um, over the Stream Teams has a great website with a lot of educational materials. You can also sign up for a weekly email that they send out with water news updates, um, and advocacy updates. And then another group that I work with doing work throughout the Midwest and the Mississippi river basin is Fishers and Farmers. Fishersandfarmers.org has a lot of really great information and resources, too. We have over 110,000 miles of streams in just the state of Missouri. You know, so blessed. A lot of people call us the Stream State. We're known for a lot of our rivers and streams. We're unique in that we have two major rivers within our state, the Missouri and the Mississippi. We just, we're just, it's all about the water.
Jill Pritchard: It really is.
Sherry Fischer: [Laughing.]
Jill Pritchard: It really is. And I think again, just spreading that awareness is really crucial.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah. Yeah, because the small things really do make a difference. They really do.
Jill Pritchard: Well Sherry, thank you so much for joining me today. We really appreciate all the information.
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm always happy to talk about water.
[Water running with wildlife sounds.]
Male: Summer is more refreshing on the water. From fast boats to slow floats, a rod and reel or a tasty meal, there are as many things to do on the water as there are people to share it with. Missouri? The water is calling. How will you respond?
[Male singing: Oh, let me be on the water, yeah.]
Male: Discover nature on the water at missouriconservation.org.
Jill Pritchard: And welcome back to Nature Boost. Water and wellness, they go hand in hand. We all know water is good for us, right? It flushes out the toxins in our bodies. It promotes weight loss and skin health. It can even help to relieve headaches. But what about the health benefits of being around a body of water? Around the world, the number of people living in densely populated areas is growing each year. Studies have shown that the growth of urban living can have adverse effects on our health caused by air and water pollution. Living in a larger city can also be stressful, posing a threat to our mental health and well-being. But research is showing that having elements of natural areas within urban settings can not only help reduce some of those environmental harms, but also support our overall health.
We've been talking about green space a lot this season, how being in nature has tremendous benefits for body and mind. But we're finding blue space can be just as powerful. Research has shown being around water does its part to decrease stress and anxiety, lower our heart rate, and boost our overall feeling of happiness. Some studies have shown that people who live close to bodies of water are healthier and happier than those who don't. Researchers have also found that people who just spent time watching fish in an aquarium reported significant health benefits. Scientists aren't sure exactly why water has this effect on us. But some connect it back to our ancestors who were always on the lookout for a water source.
I have a different theory. Do we love being around water so much because we ourselves are made of it? I mean around 65 percent of the human adult body is water. Our brains are even 70 percent water. There is just something about sitting at the edge of a river or a lake and listening to nature.
[Sounds of babbling brook.]
It's a mental break, a breath of fresh air. And luckily in Missouri, there are plenty of opportunities to soak in the benefits. There are more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams in Missouri. Popular blue spaces include rivers like the Osage, Gasconade, Jacks Fork, Merrimack, and the Big Piney.
Younger generations are investing more time in their health and wellness. And they're big supporters of the self-care movement. It's important to note that caring about our wellness doesn't always have to be about staying in all the time and doing a face mask and watching Chopped. It can mean spending time outside in the outdoors, and appreciating all that nature has to offer, including our blue spaces.
[Sound of water swirling.]
Quality water means quality life. And as Sherry and I discussed, the first step in making a change is awareness. Take a look at your daily routine and how it could impact our water systems. Giving back to our environment is good for nature, and good for us.
[Birds and nature sounds.]
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Nature Boost. And a big thanks again to my guest, MDC's Stream and Watershed Chief herself, Sherry Fischer. For more information on healthy water and ways you can visit missouriconservation.org. This is Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.
Your profile picture on Facebook is with the one and only Pioneer Woman herself.
Female: [Gasp!] Oh my gosh!
Jill Pritchard: Ree Drummond!
Sherry Fischer: Yeah, so my cousins and I went on a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma. She was doing a book signing for her new cookbook. So, we got to meet her!
Jill Pritchard: Oh my gosh!
Sherry Fischer: I like have goosebumps now just talking about it!
Jill Pritchard: What's she like, because I love her!
Sherry Fischer: She is so, she's exactly like she seems on the show. Just so down to earth.
[End of recording.]