Protecting Our Streams: Why Water Quality Matters

Northwest Indiana is a highly industrialized region, and despite significant legislation and safeguards, industrial by-products such as heavy metals still sometimes manage to find their way into our local watersheds. These occurrences are rare, but establishing a water quality monitoring program is important for understanding the current health of our local watersheds, which are of great importance in the Great Lakes region.

An individual utilizing a sample grabber to collect water for testing.

A typical water quality dataset will include measurements of pH, dissolved oxygen percent, nitrogen and phosphorus content, turbidity, and conductivity. Details on the importance of each water quality indicator can be found on the EPA website. Heavy metals such as chromium, lead, and mercury are also commonly monitored. A moderate pH (~6-8) and nitrogen and phosphorus count, along with high dissolved oxygen percent, stable conductivity, and low heavy metal concentration can typically signal a healthy and safe ecosystem, although exact specifics can vary depending on a variety of factors.

Each watershed operates with its own unique ecosystem and set of traits that can make the values of water quality standards change for every stream. A comprehensive water quality dataset allows land management organizations such as the Department of Natural Resources, the National Parks Service, or even our own Shirley Heinze Land Trust (SHLT) to make the best decisions regarding future management of the properties to bolster the recreation experience and ecological habitat.

Notre Dame Sophomore Faith Groody collecting water samples with Quinn Mackay.

Shirley Heinze Land Trust has been collecting water quality data within target watersheds to determine if any actions can be taken to help preserve the natural character of the managed land amongst an ever-changing landscape. Further, a Senior at the University of Notre Dame and Environmental Sciences student, Quinn Mackay, is working with Shirley Heinze Land Trust and the Center for Environmental Science and Technology (CEST) at Notre Dame to quantify the pollution extent within waterways in the region.

Quinn is collecting water and sediment samples across the East Little Calumet watershed, and utilizing the analytical equipment provided in CEST to take concentrations of various metals within the freshwater and soil. So far, his preliminary results have shown very minimal concentrations in direct water samples and is currently investigating sediment samples, which hold a record of metal accumulation over time. Further analysis will look closely at other metals within sediment samples and water quality within lakes in the area, as well as at Lydick Bog, a state dedicated nature preserve owned and managed by SHLT.

A water quality sampling demonstration at Meadowbrook Nature Preserve.

Quinn is also working with Shirley Heinze to support the volunteer water quality program, which is expanding the existing water quality dataset. This is the best way for volunteers to get involved with this important issue.

This year’s water quality training will take place on March 23rd and introduce participants to some of the instruments used with water quality data collection and will give opportunities to assist us in our data collection throughout the region while learning more about our local watershed! You can register here or email with any questions.