LYONS — The St. Vrain River is alive with fish food.
That, if you’re wondering, is good news, because the insects eaten by fish tend to be susceptible to pollution. And more insects means cleaner water.
Saturday morning, dozens of local high school students — monitored by their teachers, local experts and members of Trout Unlimited — conducted 10 water-quality and insect life investigations along the St. Vrain from Lyons to the western edge of Longmont.
They found lots of insects.
“I’ve never even heard of these bugs before,” said Jazmine Narum, a 15-year-old student at Lyons Middle-Senior School. “It’s cool.”
Narum wasn’t the only one excited by Saturday’s finds. Her group checked two portions of the St. Vrain in Lyons, stirring up the bottom and overturning rocks to send insects downstream into a mesh collection screen called a kick net.
At one point, Narum teetered dangerously close to falling into a pool in the river, the water rising nearly over her borrowed hip-high waders.
“Are you guys getting pictures of this?” she yelled to two classmates on the bank.
They weren’t. Instead, Sophie Latorre, 15, and Amanda Crispe, 16, were bent over a white plastic tub containing all manner of swimming and crawling bugs, mostly caddis and stonefly larvae and nymphs.
Supervising them was their college-prep biology teacher, Kellie Courtney, who said classroom teaching is no substitute for getting your hands dirty in the field.
“Most people know the stream is here but probably don’t know all about the life floating in it,” she said. “This gives them a chance to see how science can be applied to change policy. And it’s a lot more fun that textbooks.”
Saturday’s samplings were part of an effort sponsored by the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, with help from Boulder County and the city of Longmont. About 60 people participated.
Anglers hope to clean up the river and increase the amount of water flowing down it so more and bigger trout will live in it. But they also recognize that a better St. Vrain River will attract all kinds of other people to the area, from bicyclists using the city’s greenway to equestrians riding on the county’s under-development trail from Lyons to Longmont.
Saturday’s sampling is intended to serve as a baseline for continued monitoring of the river. Next month, the federal United State Geological Survey will begin an even more comprehensive study of the river as it runs through Longmont. That study will look at both aquatic life and use samplers that mimic fish tissue to monitor the accumulation of pollutants.
The two studies are the first recent and comprehensive investigations into what kinds of fish and insects live in the St. Vrain, and what kinds of chemicals might be contaminating it.
The river meets federal clean water standards, but regulators are considering adding other chemicals assumed to be in the water to the prohibited list. The USGS study, for instance, will be looking for the presence of birth control hormones, caffeine and antacids, which are not regulated but considered potentially hazardous to aquatic life.
Longmont city officials are assisting with both studies. On Saturday, city manager Gordon Pedrow saw off the testers from the parking lot at Longmont High School. And Larry Wyeno, a civil engineer with the city’s water department, went out with one of the five teams.
Chuck Howard, who helped create the “St. Vrain River Protection Committee” because of his love for fishing, said the city’s participation in the sampling was critical. Longmont provided laboratory services to check the water samples taken by Saturday’s teams.
The chemical analysis will take about a week, reviewing the levels of oxygen and bacteria in the water. But Howard said he’s confident the survey shows the health of the St. Vrain is even more promising than he expected.
“It think it was outstanding,” Howard said of Saturday’s efforts.. “We found there’s a lot of differences in the area. There are some places with really good food and some places where it’s pretty slight. There was a lot more insect life in places than we really expected to find.”
Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at email@example.com.