Kids study Brandywine water
Kennett students give Brandywine water quality an A+
There’s some welcomed news for those of us who spend time fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and tubing down the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek -- and for those of us who just care about the environment in general -all thanks to a recent study conducted by a group of budding young environmental scientists from Kennett High School.
Back on Oct. 4, Mr. Mike Replogle’s AP Environmental Science Class abandoned the musty confines of the classroom for the great out-of-doors, embarking on a Canoeing Water Quality Stream Study in concert with the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance who helped subsidize the cost of the canoe rentals. Twenty-two students paired together in eleven canoes launched from Corcoran’s Bridge that morning under partly cloudy, chilly skies. Thus began the four hour environmental study on the roiling waters of the West Brandywine.
The AP students, a mix of sophomores, juniors, and seniors boasting a wide range of canoeing experience from novice to expert, were accompanied by Replogle and Kennett High School Earth and Space Science teacher Jess Bewley riding shotgun in their respective kayaks. Brandywine Red Clay Alliance environmental instructors Jen Roth and Vail Ryan also served as chaperone guides. According to Replogle, the group enjoyed clear, navigable waters with good stream flow that day.
Replogle, age 47, has taught science at Kennett for 20 years, but this is his first year teaching the new AP Environmental Science Class for which he developed the school curriculum in accordance with College Board guidelines. “Aspects of this study assessed physical properties of the
stream,” he noted. “This included depth, width, water velocity, temperature, turbidity, and aquatic vegetation.”
The study also considered stream chemistry and evaluated the levels of nitrate, nitrites, and dissolved oxygen present. But the most fascinating aspect of the research was an inventory of tiny little animals called macroinvertebrates (or macros for short) that the students captured. These tiny critters serve as a primary indicator of water quality and are divided into three classes which reflect their respective ability to tolerate impurities and pollutants in the water.
Class III macros are most tolerant; an excess of them suggests poor water quality. These include aquatic worms, midge fly larva, blackfly larva, leeches, and a variety of snails. The Kennett students collected all but blackfly larva. Class II critters are less tolerant and include the crayfish, cranefly larva, clams, and beetle larva that the Kennett students captured during their excursion. Other Class II macros that were not uncovered by the study include sowbugs, scuds, damselfly larva, dragonfly larva, and water-snipe fly larva.
“All of these macros were captured by students using something called a kick net,” explained Replogle, “and the absence of some of the bugs and larva that weren’t collected may be a factor of seasonal conditions like water temperatures.”
But a key indicator of good water quality is the presence of Class I macros, creatures that are least tolerant of pollution and impurities. These include stonefly larva, caddisfly larva, water penny, riffle beetle larva, dobsonfly larva, Mayfly
larva, and gilled snail. The Kennett students collected all of these species and recorded high numbers of most of them.
All of this data was applied to a formula that resulted in a water quality index of “Excellent.” “The Brandywine Red Clay folks were surprised that the students collected so many Class I macros,” said Replogle. “The stream chemistry parameters also all checked out within acceptable ranges for excellent water quality,” he said, “so the grade we would assign to that stretch of the West Brandywine between Corcoran’s Bridge where we launched and Northbrook where we ended is an A plus, a grade that applies only to the section we studied on that day. The water quality might or might not be the same upstream or downstream from the study segment.”
The Kennett AP Environmental Science students who participated in the study enjoyed a great day on the Brandywine. “The canoe study was a good hands-on experience,” said sophomore Chris Ferrighetto. “It’s one thing to learn in the classroom, but to actually go outside and do it helps reinforce the learning experience.”
Senior Luke Beeson concurred. “It was nice to get out of the classroom and do some hands-on learning.”
But junior Juan Gonzalez expressed some disappointment that the West Brandywine’s water quality was so good. “It would have been more interesting if we actually uncovered pollutants in the water,” he frowned, “which we didn’t.”
“...which is a good thing,” interjected Hortencia Ortiz, a senior. “It was a nice experience to share with my classmates, especially since my partner and I had no prior canoeing experience,” she said. “But with the guidance of Mr. Rep and the other chaperones we made
it through okay.”
At the other end of the paddling proficiency spectrum was veteran canoeist Max Judd, a junior. “I think I learned more than I expected to,” he said. “And the bonus was that we got to enjoy a relaxed day on the water. Also, the guides from the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance were super helpful.”
But Replogle’s stalwart students and future environmental scientists are not about to rest on their laurels and will soon be venturing outside of the classroom again. “Next week we’re going to tour the New Garden Wastewater Treatment Plant and find out how wastewater is treated there,” said Replogle.
In the meantime it’s nice to know that eager, engaging, intelligent students like those at Kennett High School guided by concerned and caring mentors like Mike Replogle and supported by organizations like the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance are keeping a close and critical eye on the environmental health and welfare of our Brandywine Creek, one of Chester County’s most treasured natural resources.
I checked in with the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Communications Director Travis Lau for the agency’s rationale on deer baiting feeder restrictions discussed in last week’s column. “The feeder used must be able to dispense feed automatically during hunting hours,” he explained. “It must be capable of timed release, and up to three releases a day – all during hunting hours – are permitted. The idea is to get deer into the routine of coming to areas during hunting hours, to increase the chances they can be harvested. If food is available round the clock until it’s gone, it doesn’t achieve that goal.”
Kenneett students, from left, Laure Hen, Kate Doroba, Michael Gorcyca and Michaela Clarkson collect samples for a water quality study on the Brandywine.
Kennett AP Environmental teacher Mike Replogle, left, and students Max Judd, center, and Tyler Bowdoin analyze stream data on the Brandywine.