Bioassessment: The bugs tell the story

bugsA Look Back

I grew up in San Carlos and Santee, so Mission Trails Regional Park was practically my backyard. Before the visitor’s center opened in 1995, not many people utilized the park– it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I remember just my family and the old lady collecting crawfish with a piece of hotdog on a fishing pole. My dad, my brother, and I would walk down to the San Diego River after a major stormand watch as the river swelled, unleashing a torrent of water past the old dam, which is pretty impressive, if you get a chance.

This month, I headed down to the park to get training for the upcoming bioassessment project. Before I describe the training, let me give you some background.

Some Background on our Monitoring Program

The monitoring program we have run for more than a decade has focused on chemical constituents. We measure nitrate and ammonia concentrations. We measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. We measure bacteria concentrations. Measuring stream pollutants is important data, and we use them to compare the stream to regulatory standards. But, this picture of the ecological health of the stream is incomplete. We can say if a stream has pollutant problems, but can’t really say what effects those pollutants have on the stream. 

bioassessmentAt Coastkeeper, we want to round out our monitoring program and add physical and biological integrity measurements to our picture of stream health. We can get a sense of overall watershed health by collecting and analyzing the insects that make the stream their home, as well as noting how intact the physical habitat of the stream is. I am super excited to be adding this component to our program.

Now to the Good Stuff–Bugs and Bioassessment Trainings

Back to the training. Last week we brought  Jim Harrington from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to train our volunteer team leaders. Myself, three of our volunteers, and Shannon Quigley-Raymond, who is a partner of ours at the San Diego River Park, learned the ins and outs collecting insects, assessing their habitat, and running a bioassessment program. This training was hardcore–three full days of learning.

water quality tests

Local environmental consultants joined our training: staff from the San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside Water Quality Control Boards; and Fish and Wildlife staff members. This diverse group got me thinking about the value of volunteer-generated water quality data. Here we were getting the same training that the “professionals” get to conduct this work. And these professionals got trained because San Diego Coastkeeper brought the trainer down!

Photographic Evidence

Just look at these photos and see how beautiful San Diego’s water are. These pictures of Mission Trails shows how lush and beautiful our rivers can be if weprotect them properly.

Join the Fun

If you like playing with bugs, getting muddy, and telling the story of our watersheds, keep your eye out for our bioassessment program announcements. We hope to get started in June, and we will need a bunch of help.


Like our monthly water quality monitoring program, this bioassessment work is funded with support from the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 of the State of California.