Stream-Based Projects for Boy Scouts

You don’t need a background in science or expensive equipment to help Boy Scouts monitor water quality in local streams. The Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams (SOS) program was developed for volunteers just like you. With simple tools plus targeted training from the League, you can help Scouts become citizen scientists.

Information collected by volunteer stream monitors helps us develop a clearer picture of water quality across the country. If you do find water quality problems, we have resources to help identify pollution sources and restore streams to good health (a great Eagle Scout project!).

Options to get Scouts involved in monitoring local streams range from simple, hands-on educational activities to small-scale restoration projects. Here are a few options to get your Scouts started.

Hands-On Environmental Education

The smallest of streams can harbor an astounding variety of beetles, insect larvae, snails, and other aquatic life. In an hour or two, Scouts can collect and identify macroinvertebrates from a local stream and draw some basic conclusions about stream health.

What is a macroinvertebrate? An invertebrate is an animal that doesn’t have a backbone, and “macro” means that you don’t need a microscope to see one (although some are still very tiny). Aquatic macroinvertebrates live on, under, and around rocks and sediment on the bottom of rivers and streams. Unlike fish, frogs, and other stream dwellers that move around, macroinvertebrates tend to stay in one small area all their lives. They also vary widely in their tolerance for pollution. So the presence (or absence) of certain macroinvertebrates can tell us whether a stream is healthy or not.

Visit iwla.org/sos for instructions on collecting macroinvertebrates, including equipment lists, data-collection forms, and how-to videos. NOTE: Some states require permits to collect aquatic insects and crustaceans. Contact the local office of your state natural resources conservation agency for clarification.

The Izaak Walton League also developed a mobile app called Aqua Bugs to help stream monitors identify the critters they find in the water. (Another great tool for tech-savvy youth!) The app is free for iPhone and Android. You can find more details at iwla.org/aqua-bugs.

Regular Stream Monitoring

If your Scouts are interested in adopting a stream to regularly check water quality, it is important for one or more adult leaders to become trained and certified stream monitors. With this training, leaders can help Scouts and other volunteers determine more advanced conclusions about water quality – including assessments of important chemical and physical aspects of stream health – and play an important role in keeping the local community informed about stream health.

The League can provide the training and support leaders need to become highly skilled stream monitors. Visit iwla.org/workshops for details on upcoming workshops or to request a workshop.

Stream Restoration

Monitoring provides the first piece of information about water quality. That data is essential for informing next steps to protect or improve stream health, including stream or habitat restoration projects as well as community education campaigns. Troops and Eagle Scout candidates can lead development and implementation of stream restoration projects based on the results of their monitoring work. The League has resources to support restoration initiatives. Visit iwla.org/stream-restoration for more detailed information. Local partners – from soil and water conservation districts to garden clubs and local government agencies – could also provide expertise, volunteers, and financial support for restoration efforts.

Scouting and Water Conservation

The Conservation Handbook tells Scouts that “becoming involved with conservation is good for the land and good for you.” For Scout leaders, the handbook suggests that “helping younger generations develop a strong environmental ethic will pay big dividends as they grow into responsible adults eager to care for natural resources.”

Monitoring water quality in local streams is one of the sample conservation projects suggested in this handbook and a great way to introduce Scouts and leaders to conservation. An established stream monitoring project may meet one or more of the Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge requirements. (Refer to requirements 7.e. – Make a list of places that have erosion, sedimentation, or pollution problems, and 7.f. – Carry out any other soil and water conservation project approved by your merit badge counselor.)

In addition, the Hornaday Awards program recognizes efforts that contribute to natural resource conservation and environmental protection. A pack, troop, team, or crew conducting a stream monitoring project might qualify as “a unique, substantial conservation project” and earn a Hornaday Unit Certificate. The Hornaday Badge can be awarded to an individual Scout for planning, leading, and carrying out a local stream monitoring effort as “a significant project in natural resource conservation.” Or a Scout could consider developing a stream monitoring effort into a major soil and water conservation project to meet one of the requirements for a Hornaday Bronze or Silver Medal.

The Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge pamphlet offers a succinct description of conservation and Scouting: “To enjoy woods, wildlife, and flowers; clean water; natural open spaces near our homes; and a good food supply; then you, too, must be a conservationist.”

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