You can learn a lot about freshwater wildlife habitat with simple tests for water quality. Use the tests to compare areas along a stream or river or around a lake, to compare one lake with another, or to test rainwater. Water quality testing kits are sold at most science supply stores. These kits include all necessary materials and instructions for several tests. Perhaps you can borrow kits from high schools in your area, purchase them from other sources, or obtain them from the nearest government agriculture office.
Try testing a river upstream and downstream of a town to discover if it is affected by industries or sewage disposal. Or compare a stream running by a farm with one in a woods.
• A pH test shows if water is acid or alkaline. You could conduct your own acid rain survey to see if you live in an acid-sensitive area. Rainwater can be tested with pH kits.
• Tests for nitrogen or phosphorus will show if plant nutrients are present, which may mean fertilizer or sewage pollution.
• Tests for turbidity (lack of water clarity) may indicate serious erosion or other pollution.
• Tests for hardness show the amount of minerals present.
Simpler tests can be done with less expensive materials. A swimming pool testing kit or litmus paper (available in any high school chemistry lab) can test the pH of water. An ordinary thermometer can record the temperature of a stream or lake. Then a biology text or a provincial fisheries biologist can tell you the temperatures suitable for different fish.
You can easily measure water clarity with a piece of string and a weight of metal or stone at one end. Paint the weight with black and white stripes. (If you have a water testing kit, it may include one of these that scientists use—it's called a Secci disk). When the weight is no longer visible, measure the length of string. Compare different areas in a lake or river. This shows how clean the water is and how much light is available for aquatic plants.
You could plot your test results on a chart. Remember to note wind direction and weather conditions that might affect readings. Through our Habitat 2,000 computer network, you can compare your findings with those of other schools across the province or territory or the country.
Put it on Paper for Wildlife
Find out which companies are the major acid rain polluters in your community or province or territory. Write letters (on recycled paper, of course). Express your concern and your support for the reduction of emissions that cause acid rain. Send the letters to your provincial or territorial and federal governments; to major industrial sources; and to the president of the United States and the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Start an acid rain file. Collect newspaper articles, government fact sheets, and whatever else you can find on acid rain. Environment Canada monitors the pH (acidity) of precipitation and will give you this information. Some newspapers carry the information daily. Encourage your local paper to publish the acidity of rainfall in your area.
What ends up in Water besides Water?
• Industrial chemicals
• Gasoline and oil
• Lawn and agricultural fertilizer
• Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides
• Animal wastes from agriculture, pets, and stray animals
• Construction debris
• Paints and solvents
• Salts that de-ice highways
• Plastic six-pack rings
• Plastic bags
• Fishing lines and net
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