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Year-long ecosystem study focuses on Leslie Groves natural area (photo gallery)

The water quality of the Columbia River matters to salmon and can affect their survival. Some Wiley Elementary fourth grade students collected water samples Thursday near the Snyder boat ramp in north Richland. They took reading levels of important data points including phosphate, pH, and temperature.

“This is my passion…to have students out working in the field,” stated teacher Lindsay Gailey.

Thursday’s outside lab activity is part of a year-long study of the North Leslie Groves ecosystem. Gailey and her students will return to the area every few months. The research project also includes studying the shrub-steppe ecosystem at the north Richland natural area.

1) Dissolved Oxygen: Fish do not breathe water. They breathe dissolved oxygen in the water from air bubbles that are too small for people to see.  Oxygen mixes into the water as it tumbles over rocks and logs in the river. Dissolved oxygen gets into water from aquatic plants.  In water that is slow or has lots of pollution, bacteria uses up a lot of the oxygen, so there is less oxygen for fish to breathe.

2) Water Temperature:  Both fish, and the stream bugs that they eat need cold water in order to be healthy.  When the water gets too warm, the bodies of these animals may stop working.  Cold water also holds more oxygen than warm water, so colder water has higher levels of dissolved oxygen.  For water temperature to meet the standard for “excellent” water quality, the temperature must be lower than 64° Fahrenheit (F).

3) Phosphate: When rivers are healthy, they only have a tiny bit of nutrients. These nutrients naturally come from soil and rocks.  When water has too many nutrients, the extra usually comes from soap, fertilizer, or animal waste.

4) Turbidity: Turbidity is a measure of how clear the water is.  Water that has a high level of turbidity is hard to see through, because it has a lot of dirt in it.  When the water gets muddy, it also gets warmer, because the dirt in the water absorbs heat. This can reduce the amount of oxygen because warm water holds less oxygen than cold water.

4) pH: pH stands for potential hydrogen.