Posts Tagged ‘monitoring

Dave and Anne Jane during a recent flow monitoring trip.

Dave Carr and Anne Jane Grey have been EcoStewards with NMRWA since 2007.  You will often find Dave pulling invasives along trails in Frick Park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot them both while they are in the stream doing their monthly flow monitoring.

1. Tell me how you first got involved with flow monitoring and Urban EcoStewards?

Dave: I became an Urban EcoSteward in the fall of 2007.   I was looking to volunteer and what better than an activity that would get me out in one of our great regional parks?  In 2014, I teamed up with Steve Bucklin and we started streamflow monitoring once a month.  In 2017, Anne Jane took Steve’s place and we have been doing it ever since.

2. What’s your first memory of the Nine Mile Run Stream?

Dave: Hmm, I have a pre-restoration memory of a marshy baseball field but that probably isn’t what you had in mind.  I don’t have a clear first memory of the restored stream.

Anne Jane: Like Dave I can’t remember when I first really noticed Nine Mile Run but I am guessing it was after we became EcoStewards. At that point I began to feel ownership of the stream.

3. What do you wish other people knew about restoration or monitoring?

Anne Jane: Even though monitoring is a small job, I like that we are regularly adding data about Nine Mile Run. Plus, it forces me to get near the water at least once a month. Dave and I also take a walk near the stream when we are done. Because of this, we were some of the first people to see the damage from the big storms last month and relayed that information to Brenda. So not only are we monitoring stream flow, but we also note monthly changes.

4. What’s it like to be an Urban EcoSteward?

Dave: Being an Urban EcoSteward gives me a chance to get out into Frick.  Also, I really enjoy being an ambassador for the park and helping to raise awareness concerning the restoration and how special it is.  If I am working near a trail people will sometimes stop to ask what I am doing, or to thank me for my efforts, or just to chat.  For an introvert like me, this easy socializing is a nice thing.

5. When was the last time that you volunteered? How did it make you feel?

Dave: I worked in Frick today, (8/20/19), removing invasive mugwort.  It made me feel…hot…and dirty…and relaxed.

Anne Jane: We did our August stream monitoring today (8/21/19). As always, no matter how tired or reluctant I feel, I am always happy when we start walking down the trail to the monitoring site – I notice the flowers, the trees, the birds – just being in the park helps my mood.

6. What keeps you engaged?

Dave: For most of us altruism can only sustain our efforts for so long.  If you don’t truly enjoy what you are doing, you will soon move to some other activity.  Since I have been at this for almost 12 years you can assume that I enjoy it.  How could I not?   I get to appreciate the wildlife in a different way than when walking or running through it and I often text Anne Jane a photo of my latest sighting of a snake, caterpillar, beaver signs, animal scat, etc.

Anne Jane:  Again, feeling like I make a small contribution to the knowledge about Nine Mile Run and my hope that it will prove useful is my main motivation to keep monitoring the stream. I also like helping a small nonprofit like Nine Mile Run – for its size I think it makes a big impact. It is easy to get to know the staff and everyone is so appreciative.

Josie on a monitoring visit with Girty’s Run Watershed Association and the Pitt Water Collaboratory

Hello, my name is Josie and I recently graduated from Duquesne University with a Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management with a concentration in Conservation Biology. This summer, I am working with water quality monitoring data at the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA). Specifically, I am developing an aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling protocol for NMRWA. I am also collecting macroinvertebrate community data at Girty’s Run and Montour Run to compare Nine Mile Run with other urban watersheds. When I am not collecting data, I am updating and analyzing water quality data from previous years to help assess the progress of restoration at Nine Mile Run.

I grew up in the Laurel Mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and started appreciating wildlife and the environment as a child. My backyard was a forested area with a small creek, and I remember playing there and collecting and identifying small organisms using encyclopedias and field guides local bookstores. At a young age, I realized that I had a passion for conservation and learning about wildlife. This opportunity at NMRWA allows me to explore my passion and apply the knowledge I have learned from my six years of education on environmental science.

In my stream field biology course, I helped collect and identify macroinvertebrates at Raccoon Creek with the Allegheny County Conservation District to see the impact of erosion on macroinvertebrate communities. Working on this project taught me how macroinvertebrate community structures can indicate the quality of a watershed, since there are specific organisms that are sensitive to pollution and environmental stress. While I was at Duquesne University, I collected water samples for 3 Rivers QUEST and I learned about water chemistry and sources of water pollution. These experiences allowed me to learn about monitoring watersheds by observing water chemistry and aquatic organisms in the field, and I am eager to learn more about watershed monitoring at NMRWA.

I thoroughly enjoy working at NMRWA because they are committed to restoring and protecting the environment and community. This organization has welcomed me onto their team and has allowed me to learn about the environmental efforts in Pittsburgh. I am learning that successful restoration requires consistent monitoring and commitment to improve water quality.


The following post is a guest blog entry from Eric Martin, a Coro Fellow who interned with Nine Mile Run for the last eight weeks.


My name is Eric Martin and I am currently working at Nine Mile Run as part of my nine month long experience as a Coro Fellow. What is the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs? The Coro Fellowship is a leadership development program in Pittsburgh for young adults who want to pursue a career in public affairs. The Fellowship is focused on training individuals who, as citizens and leaders, will all their lives act constructively and competently to build up and improve their communities and society as a whole.

I am originally from Fairmont, WV and graduated in 2010 from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. In my time since graduating, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to work in short, but connected, experiences that have allowed me to live in other parts of the country and the world while gaining a wide range of skills. Before joining Nine Mile Run for my eight week placement, I was placed at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where I was tasked with consulting and recommending improvements to their Operations Department.

Eric helps sample water in Nine Mile Run

Eric helps sample water in Nine Mile Run

At Nine Mile Run, I have been fortunate enough to be thrown right in the mix! On my second day, I found myself in the heart of the Nine Mile Run stream helping Maranda and Abbey with our monthly stream sampling. It is unbelievable to think that that was during the second week of January and it is now almost March, and my time here is almost over. In between, I have helped with marketing and project initiatives with Mike, accounting with Lindsey-Rose, learned how to build rain barrels with Paul, attended Clean Rivers Campaign meetings with Brenda, and worked a lot with Jared and the StormWorks crew! Phew!

I want to thank everyone here for being so welcoming and nice! I have felt right at home and a part of the team from the moment I started working here. My hope is that I have helped here in some way and will continue helping to advance the mission of Nine Mile Run in my final weeks here as well as moving forward in my career!


This guest post was written by Rob Rossi, a graduate student in the department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a graduate summer intern of NMRWA in 2015.

Road salt is a common part of winter for many Pittsburgh residents.  In Pennsylvania, more than 840,000 tons of road salt (sodium chloride, or table salt) were applied to roadways between 2009 and 2014.  Although it helps keep our roads and sidewalks ice and snow free, road salt has unintended consequences.  Many people are familiar with the ever annoying winter problems of salt stained clothing or shoes/boots, but the environmental effects of road salt are less obvious.  Road salt can have numerous negative effects on the environment, such as increased fresh water and soil salinity, and less obvious effects, such as increased time necessary for rain to soak into the soil.  Additionally, when road salt dissolves in highway runoff, these waters have high total dissolved solids (TDS), which can flush roadside soil metals from clay particles  (see animated Figure 1).  Metals flushed by these reactions can include plant nutrients (e.g., potassium, calcium, magnesium) or toxic trace metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, cadmium).

Road salt exchange gif

Figure 1. Animation of a cation exchange reaction. Potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) ions bound to soil clay particles are exchanged by sodium (Na) ions in solution. Mobilized metals are then released into the soil water, and ultimately the ground or surface water.

Road Salt Study in Nine Mile Run

Lysimeter Working

Figure 2. Lysimeters are plastic tubes with a ceramic cup. To collect a soil water sample, a scientist applies a vacuum (arrow) and the lysimeter sucks up soil water (dashed lines) like a straw.

Rob Rossi, a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh, has been researching the effects of road salt on roadside soils in Nine Mile Run.  Specifically, Rob has been analyzing soil and soil water chemistry in samples collected from three roadside soil water sampler “nests”.  Each nest is a group of four lysimeters which behave much like giant straws, sucking up soil water samples when a vacuum is applied to the end of the soil water sampler (see Figure 2).  The lysimeters collect soil water at roughly 6, 12, 24, and 36 inch depths along a hill slope perpendicular to I-376.

In the soil samples, soil sodium concentrations are highest in soils collected from near the road.  Soil sodium concentrations decrease with distance from the roadway, approaching values observed in the local bedrock (see Figure 3).  One theory is that high sodium concentrations can be attributed to the minerals breaking down in the bedrock but because sodium concentrations in roadside soils are much higher than sodium concentrations found in the bedrock, minerals in the bedrock breaking down is likely not what inputs sodium to these soils.  Instead, the application of road salt to I-376 is likely causing high sodium concentrations in roadside soils.

Sodium concentration chart

Figure 3. Sodium concentrations in the sampled top (black), mid (red), and bottom (grey) hillslope soils. The vertical dashed line indicates the average sodium concentration in local bedrock. Parts per million (ppm) is a measurement scientists use to describe the concentration of an element. In other words, if a bucket holding a total of 1 million marbles contained 100 ppm of blue marbles, 100 of those 1 million marbles would be blue marbles.

Sodium concentrations in sampled soil waters peak at different times throughout the year relative to the location along the hillslope (see Figure 4).  In particular, the earliest peaks in soil water sodium concentrations occur in the top hillslope soil waters in late February/early March in the intermediate depth (39 and 61 cm depth) soil waters.  Additionally, soil water samples from the deepest top hillslope nest have, in general, the highest sodium concentration.  While sodium concentrations spike in soil waters collected from all depths of the top hillslope nest station, soil water sodium concentrations peak only in deeper soil waters of the mid hillslope nest.  Moreover, the peak in soil water sodium concentrations at the mid hillslope nest do not peak at the same time as when soil water sodium concentrations peak at the top hillslope nest.


Figure 4. Sodium concentrations in top (a), mid (b), and bottom (c) hillslope soil waters collected between October 2013 and November 2014. The light blue box indicates the time of the year when road salt is not applied to roadways.

These patterns in soil water sodium concentrations suggest that the way soil water flows in roadside soils influences the movement of sodium through these soils.  Specifically, because the deeper top hillslope lysimeters (i.e., 12, 24, and 36 inch) peak before the shallowest (i.e., 6 inch) lysimeter, high TDS waters likely interact with deeper soils first.  High TDS runoff from the highway is often observed to enter the soil column via infiltration (i.e., water percolating downwards through the soil), which produces a peak in sodium concentrations in the shallowest soil waters first.  However, because this pattern in soil water sodium concentrations is not observed in samples collected from the Nine Mile Run transect, sodium is potentially transported to deeper soils via lateral flow originating from leaking highway drains and water flow between bedrock layers.

Previous scientific studies have observed that sodium loadings to soils persist beyond the period when road salt is applied to roadways, and this relationship is also apparent at this study site.  Specifically, sodium persists as slow moving wave, where peaks in top hillslope soil water sodium concentrations occur within a month of when road salting ends, and peaks in soil water sodium concentrations at the mid and bottom hillslope stations occur later in the year.  Thus, the distance from the roadside affects when soil water sodium concentrations will peak, suggesting that sodium is relatively slowly released from roadside soils throughout the spring and summer.

How does road salt affect the water quality of Nine Mile Run?

The results of this study suggest that sodium and metals are continually flushed to stream waters throughout the year. When sodium levels are high, the ecosystem cannot physiologically maintain a salt balance, which affects aquatic organisms living in the stream – particularly plants and animals that are not adapted to high concentrations of ions, and therefore cannot regulate the water and salt content within their cells. This stress can change the diversity of species within the ecosystem. The increased metal loading could impair the stream ecosystem, negatively impacting aquatic life such as fish.  Some metals may be either beneficial or toxic, depending on their concentration. The primary mechanism for toxicity to organisms that live in streams is by absorption or uptake across the gills. The metals that are most toxic to aquatic organisms are Copper, Iron, Cadmium, Zinc, Mercury, and Lead.

I-376 Sodium runoff model

Figure 5. A conceptual model of how sodium travels through the hill slope soils next to I-376. The color of the arrows indicates the relative timing of when sodium is transported via this flowpath. Blue occurs in mid to late February, dark grey in early March, orange in early May, and red in early August.

Thus, it is likely that road salt application impacts soils down the hillside of I-376, and that the negative impacts of road salt application are not limited to the winter and early spring.


As you may have seen in our Spring newsletter, since 2013 we have been working with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) on a grant received from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program. One of the goals of our partnership on this grant was to develop a culture of stewardship for the Nine Mile Run watershed by engaging a wide range of ages in citizen science and stewardship activities. One way we approached this was to implement PPC’s Mission Ground Truth (MGT) program at Wilkinsburg Middle School.

MGT is an interdisciplinary ecosystem assessment program mapped to PA state academic standards for 7th and 8th grade students that includes in-class discovery activities as well as a field trip to Frick Park. During the field trip, students get to be ecologists for the day, and have the opportunity to use the same tools and sampling methods that scientists use to evaluate the health of forest and stream ecosystems.

Recently, NMRWA staff worked for two days in Frick Park with Environmental Educators from PPC to help lead the Wilkinsburg Middle School students through the field day programming.

Jared, Mike, & the students get ready for a leaf race!

Jared, Mike, & the students get ready for a leaf race!

We began each morning by discussing goals for the day, then broke into small groups. During the morning session, the groups each explored a section of the Fern Hollow stream while discussing questions such as “how can ecologists detect and measure pollution in a stream?” and “what benefits do humans and animals get from streams?” Then the students recorded data on physical and chemical water quality characteristics, such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and velocity. Next, we explored the benthic macroinvertebrate populations by carefully overturning rocks and collecting samples using a net. To wrap up, we would discuss how everything tied together by asking questions like “based on the data we collected, is the stream healthy or unhealthy?“and “how does the quality of Fern Hollow affect the health of Nine Mile Run?

Mike & a student measure the diameter of a tree.

Mike & a student measure the diameter of a tree.

After a break for lunch, the students got to venture into the forest for a deeper look at the complex forest ecology present in Frick Park. We identified different tree and plant species and talked about the various ecosystem services that forests provide to animals, streams, and people. We asked questions like “why is biodiversity important in forests?” and “how is the health of this forest related to the health of Fern Hollow and Nine Mile Run?” Then the students used forestry tools to collect data on the location, size, and type of trees, and we looked for evidence of Asian long-horned beetles. To wrap up, we asked questions similar to the morning session, like “is this section of the forest healthy or unhealthy?

Over the course of the two days, we had a wonderful & enriching experience working with the students and with the PPC staff. Thank you to Mike, Taiji, Steve, and Chelsea for their expertise & enthusiasm in implementing the MGT programming!

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