Montgomery County team monitors health of stream, creek ecosystems


COLESVILLE, Md. (WDVM) — Montgomery County is home to hundreds of miles of rivers, creeks and streams — and there’s a special team of scientists who can translate exactly what the water the water tells us about those environments.

Rachel Gauza with Montgomery Oarks isn’t afraid to get her feet wet, overseeing the biological monitoring program and using cool tools to measure the health of local waterways. The stream team spent Friday morning surveying fish living in Paint Branch near the Marydale Nature Center in Colesville.

“We use what are known as backpack electrofishing units. They put out a current of electricity into the stream that temporarily stuns the fish. That allows us to net and capture all of them in a designated area. We then go through and do counts and identifications we look for anomalies or things like parasites or deformities that pop up in environments that are stressed,” said Gauza.

Those fish tell a story about what’s in the water along Paint Branch.

“If we see a large amount of the blue ridge sculpin, that’s a more sensitive species, so we know the water quality is high enough to support that species and other species with a range of tolerances,” Gauza explained.

Ken Mack with the county’s Department of Environmental Protection says the streams give them insight on the surrounding ecosystem, too.

“The streams really just reflect what’s happening in the area around the streams in what’s called the watershed, so all the water that flows on land gets into a stream eventually. Anything we put on the ground is gonna end up in that stream,” said Mack.

“We’re concerned about downstream influences and that sort of thing, so all our streams are running into rivers like Rock Creek, the Anacostia River, the Potomac River, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay,” said Gauza.

Mack says a few things you can do to keep waterways safe are bagging your pet waste and throwing it away, reducing your use of pesticides, and reducing stormwater runoff from your yard.

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