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Team samples streams feeding Lake Maumelle

Results to help water utility tailor management activity

By Emily Walkenhorst

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 3:11 a.m.

On an early summer afternoon, a team of Arkansas Tech University researchers donned industrial overalls and waded through a stream draining into Lake Maumelle, on a mission for Central Arkansas Water.

The researchers' task: to sample each stream draining into Lake Maumelle so future researchers have something to compare with future samples, thereby establishing a new system of monitoring the water that eventually becomes the drinking source for about 400,000 central Arkansans.

"My part in doing this baseline biological assessment is very small in their broader, overall efforts to maintain that water," researcher Rosemary Burk said. Burk is an assistant professor of biology at Arkansas Tech in Russellville and led the team of science students on their two separate trips this year to the lake.

The university received $10,000 from the Arkansas Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Burk said, and another $10,000 commitment from Central Arkansas Water, should the researchers need it. Who will conduct future research and who will fund it is not yet known, Burk said.

Burk and her team carried tools to test water temperatures and oxygen levels and to scrape the bottom of the stream for earthworms, mayflies and beetles, among other invertebrates.

They took the samples back to their lab, where they've been placing them under microscopes and working to identify them during a process that takes from eight to 12 hours a sample.

For now, Burk and her team have wrapped up their sampling from the lake, but the results from the processed samples have yet to be put into a final report on the conditions of the streams for Central Arkansas Water.

The researchers' report is due to the utility in December.

"The difference between this and a lot of the sampling we've done in the past is looking at the specific streams," Central Arkansas Water spokesman John Tynan said.

The utility is beginning to look at the lake as a system of smaller parts, including streams and portions of the watershed technically outside the lake, so it can tailor its management approaches to varying needs and conditions of the different parts.

"There's a wide range of management activities depending on the current condition of the stream, as well as the factors that lead toward that condition," Tynan said.

But Burk noted that this year's research won't tell anyone much just yet.

"It really needs to establish a baseline and then multiple years of data after," she said.

Changes in the invertebrates in the water could indicate changes in the water in the stream, Burk said. She noted that some invertebrates need a lot of oxygen and that a lesser presence over time could indicate an increase in sediment or dissolved oxygen.

Burk and Tynan said changes could be the result of different activities around the streams.

"It's important for helping understand land-use changes," Burk said.

Over the years, the research will help the utility create priorities in its management of Lake Maumelle and its watershed.

"We want to have our management approaches nearer how nature acts," Tynan said.

Metro on 08/04/2014

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