Three Buffalo State students are collecting data about streams in the Niagara River watershed under the direction of Kelly Frothingham, associate professor and chair of the Geography and Planning Department. Frothingham serves on a technical advisory committee for the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which is funding the project. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper will use the data to help guide watershed management activities in the Niagara River Greenway, which includes all the tributaries to the Niagara River.
“The goal of the project is to collect baseline data that will be used to identify opportunities for aquatic and riparian habitat restoration,” said Frothingham. The riparian zone is the land next to the top of a stream bank.
The students working on the project are Katie Bauer, ’13, who just earned her degree in biology; Megan Klein, a geography major and a McNair Scholar; and Jerry Krajna, a graduate student in the Great Lakes Ecosystem Science (GLES) master’s program. “I couldn’t ask for a better team,” said Frothingham. “They are smart, funny, and they have experience in recognizing invasive plants, something Riverkeeper asked us to note.”
Frothingham trained the students in the use of an assessment method called Stream Visual Assessment Protocol (SVAP), which was designed by the National Resources Conservation Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. “The tool defines a number of stream elements such as the condition of the stream’s channel, the appearance of the water, and the conditions of the bank and the riparian zone,” said Frothingham.
“SVAP provides more information than you can get from satellite photos,” said Bauer.
In the field, the students observe a “reach,” a stretch of about 200 feet of the stream, and score all the elements on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being optimal. “We plan to assess 10 percent of the total stream miles within the Niagara River Greenway,” said Frothingham. The greenway stretches from just south of the Buffalo River to the mouth of the Niagara River. The findings will help Riverkeeper determine which sites will benefit the most from restoration and conservation efforts.
According to Klein, one of the most surprising aspects of her work is the variation of stream condition from one reach to the next. “You can find that a stream is healthy in one location with natural vegetation and clear water, and then further down it can become extremely channelized and turbid,” she said. She added that working in the field is providing her with valuable, hands-on learning experience.
Krajna, too, has been struck by the variation in conditions within the same creek and the differences between creeks that are near each other. Cayuga Creek and Two-Mile Creek are among the streams the team is assessing.
Besides contributing to the data available to watershed managers, Krajna finds the work valuable on a personal level. “It allows me to combine past fieldwork experiences with the project management and leadership skills I’m learning in the GLES master’s program,” he said. “And it allows me to contribute to planning within the watershed where I live and play.”