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Student data reveal water-quality concerns in the Colorado River.
Austin, Texas — 2 July 2012 — In recent weeks, high-school students in the Austin Youth River Watch program have documented unusually low oxygen levels in the Colorado River.
“When we see levels this low, we start to get concerned about the health of the river,” says R. Brent Lyles, Executive Director of Austin Youth River Watch. “Our students have been monitoring water quality in the Colorado River for decades, and this is very unusual. If not for our students’ work, I’m not sure anyone would know this is happening. We’re working closely with scientists from the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, the Austin Water Utility, and the Lower Colorado River Authority to monitor the situation.”
Typically, levels of dissolved oxygen in river water may rise as high as 12mg/L during the day, when algae and aquatic plants are photosynthesizing, and it may drop as low as 4mg/L at night. When levels of dissolved oxygen fall below 4 mg/L for extended periods of time, fish and other organisms experience biological stress, and especially sensitive organisms may not survive.
In the last two weeks, students from Austin Youth River Watch — the River Watchers — have found dissolved oxygen levels below 4 mg/L at several points downstream from Longhorn Dam (the dam that creates Lady Bird Lake), even during the day. The lowest reading has been 2.45 mg/L. On Friday night, the River Watchers conducted a 24-hour “diel” study at Hornsby Bend, finding levels below 4 mg/L for several hours during the night. Students have also observed large numbers of dead Asian clams, another indicator of potential ecological stress.
“I’ve spoken with scientists from the City and LCRA,” says Elisabeth Welsh, Program Director, “and our best guess is that changing flows in the river have created this situation. The drought means less influx of fresh, clean water into the river, and flow rates below Longhorn Dam have also been impacted by the necessity of ending the large, daily discharges of water for the rice farmers and other folks downstream. It’s a troubling time, but I’m proud that our River Watchers are providing the scientific information that’s necessary to help our community understand and deal with this situation.”
Austin Youth River Watch is an after-school and summer program for at-risk high-school students, teaching environmental stewardship through water-quality monitoring, and providing support for high-school graduation. Founded in 1992, River Watch engages approximately 120 students per year from 10 or more Austin-area high schools. The graduation rate of River Watch Seniors is nearly 100%. More information about this nonprofit is available at http://ayrw.testcausality.com. Real-time updates on water quality are posted at http://www.facebook.com/AustinYouthRiverWatch.
Contact: R. Brent Lyles, Executive Director, (512) 773-9789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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