OCC's Sarah Bergbower Completes Citizen Scientist Training for Illinois RiverWatch Program

photo of Sarah Bergbower
May 20, 2021

Olney Central College Assistant Professor of Life Sciences Sarah Bergbower has completed training as a citizen scientist in the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center's Illinois RiverWatch Program.

The Illinois RiverWatch is a volunteer stream monitoring program administered by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC). Established in 2002, NGRREC’s scholars and scientists study the ecology of the big rivers, the workings of the watersheds that feed them and ties to the river communities that use them.

NGRREC aspires to be a leader in scholarly research, education and outreach related to the interconnectedness of large rivers, their floodplains and watersheds, and their associated communities. NGRREC’s unique location, strong partnerships and overall purpose make it an ideal home for administering the Illinois RiverWatch Program.

Consistent with NGRREC’s mission, Illinois RiverWatch provides volunteers a hands-on opportunity to become involved in the stewardship of Illinois rivers and streams while helping scientists monitor stream conditions across the state. Through RiverWatch, volunteers are trained as citizen scientists to conduct monitoring of the state’s rivers and streams and collect scientific data that can subsequently be used by professionals and the general public to study long-term trends in stream health, develop land management strategies, identify potentially degraded waters and assess the effectiveness of restoration projects.

RiverWatch monitoring occurs one to two times per year, spring and optionally fall, at a registered site featuring a second or third order stream. Parameters for monitoring include a habitat survey with physical and chemical characteristics as well as a biological survey with a sampling and identification of macroinvertebrates. Some macroinvertebrates are indicator species, whose presence leads into a calculation of the water's quality and level of pollution.

The weekend workshop Bergbower attended included presentations and supplemental educational materials on site selection and the entire monitoring process — from the field to the laboratory — for stream health within the watershed.

“I plan to expose OCC's Science Club, Environmental Biology class and any other interested students to citizen science with their participation in the annual sampling and data collection from Big Creek Woods Memorial, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources nature preserve owned by the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges Board of Trustees,” Bergbower said. “We may feature other demonstrations, presentations and workshops for our students as well. In the future, I would like to host the citizen science training workshop in Olney for members of the public to have this opportunity and to represent Southeastern Illinois in data collection. It's an important time in our lives to better understand science.”