Volunteer of The Week: Sara Annunziato, Water Assessment of Local Streams for The Rockland County Department of Environmental Conservation


Volunteer Sara Annunziato collects and identifies benthic macroinvertebrates (bugs) in the local county streams. Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality and the WAVE program helps to flag any impaired streams.

By Barry Warner

Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) is citizen-based water quality assessment developed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The purpose of WAVE is to enable citizen-scientists to collect biological data for assessment of water quality of wadeable streams in New York State.

“Sara is a dedicated volunteer and actively aware of environmental issues taking place across Rockland County,” Nicole Laible, district manager, Rockland County Soil and Water Conservation District indicated. “She also encouraged youth to participate in these programs, which assists with our volunteer recruitment. She supports environmental stewardship efforts and I hope to have her back volunteering for many years to come.”

“In order to be a volunteer for WAVE, you go through a training program, which is four hours long,” Sara Annuziato said. “We learned how to find appropriate locations in the streams we were monitoring in order to collect samples of the macro-invertebrates. We learned how to identify them and how to take samples of what we did find and preserve them to be sent out to the Department of Environmental Conservation. We collect samples of benthic macro-invertebrates, which are aquatic animals and their presence in a stream can indicate if the stream is healthy regarding water quality. We look for six or more favorable organisms and then we know the stream is supporting healthy life. There are also undesirable organisms, and if we see more than four of those, that is a red flag and may be a potential problem with the water quality in that stream. That information is transmitted to New York State in order for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to assess the situation. It gives us good feedback about the streams and watershed and the health of our environment in Rockland County.”

“The WAVE collections occur during the summer months of July and August and we sample 1-5 streams,” Annunziato continued. “We pick up the equipment, do our sampling and then we come back to return the equipment, then the samples are shipped off. We wear waders and take photos of our locations. We look for a ‘riffle’ or water movement of bubbling or rocks that provide a home for the macro-invertebrates. We kick up the sand to sweep up the organisms with large nets from downstream to upstream. Then we sit down and go through the catch to find the different organisms, jar them in alcohol and send them off.

“I have done the Demarest Kill, behind the dog park at Kennedy-Dells, the Naurashan and other sites. We wear full waders and go into the stream with at least two people and at least one person on shore for safety. Most of the streams go up to the knee and the rocks can be slippery. We kick along and scoop in a diagonal fashion with a net that is three feet across. We then dump the sample into a bucket of water and pick out the samples with a tweezer. We have microscopes, magnifying glasses, identification booklets, field guides and checklists to identify the macroinvertebrates (bugs).

“We do an assessment of the stream from the banks to see if logs fell in, which is a good habitat for the macroinvertebrates, or if garbage was in the way. I have been volunteering for the WAVE program for four years. I got involved with my children who were interested in the environment and then got other local high school students to volunteer. It’s been a lot of fun and I am passionate about my macroinvertebrates.”

Benthic macroinvertebrates are aquatic animals without backbones that are large enough to see without a microscope. They include worms, crustaceans and immature forms of aquatic insects such as stonefly and mayfly nymphs. The WAVE analysis uses the presence of the following organisms to determine the health of the sampled streams. ‘Most’ wanted organisms are generally found in clean, unpolluted water and their presence in the sample is usually an indicator of good water quality.

Some of them are: Athericidae (watersipe fly lava), Capnidae (small water stonefly), Epphemerelidae (spiny crawler, mayfly nymph), Glossosomatidae (saddle case-maker caddisfly larva), Helicopsychidae (snail-case caddisfly larva), Isonychiidae (brushlegged mayfly nymph), Leptohyphidae (little stout crawler mayfly nymph), Nemouridae (spring stonefly), Potamanthidae (hacklegill may fly nymph), Psephenidae (water penny) and Uenoidae (unoid case-maker caddisfly larva). ‘Least’ wanted organisms are not good indicators of water quality conditions because they can be found in a wide range of habitats and water quality conditions. Some of them include: Amphipoda (scud), Chironomus (red midge larva), Corixidae (water boatman), Halipidae (crawling water beetle), Hirdinea (leach), Pelecypoda (clams and mussels), Turbellaria (flatworm and planarian), Sialidae (black fly larva) and Tabanidae (horsefly deerfly lava).

Regular stream monitoring helps detect changes in water quality over time. Monitoring keeps track of existing stream conditions, detects threats to streams before they become a problem and helps to evaluate patterns throughout New York State. To volunteer, contact Brianna Rosamilia at rosamilb@co.rockland.ny.us or call 845-364-2719.

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