Water Quality Division
Blue Thumb Program
W 94°38’ 41.58”
December 11, 2010
Written by: Jordan Shope, Melissa Shope, and Darin Shope
Location of Sycamore Creek and Monitoring Site
Sycamore Creek is a beautiful creek with very clear water in the Ozark Highland ecoregion that begins in Newton County, Missouri. The head water of the creek is in the rolling hills between Crow Road and Hottel Springs Road, slightly south of MO Hwy DD near Seneca, MO. As can be seen by the map below, it is joined by Mason Springs branch, then flows through Ottawa County, Oklahoma and into Grand Lake of the Cherokees.
The monitoring site lies in the Mason Springs Valley area, just south of the Hwy 60 & South 690 RD intersection in Ottawa County, OK. This area, which is just east of Wyandotte, OK, is mostly used for agriculture and livestock. The monitoring site is accessed on county road 690 which gently winds down to the monitor site that opens up at the monitoring site with a tree-lined bluff that overlooks the creek to the east.
Stream Condition/ Habitat
The physical habitat of the stream is one aspect of the site that is assessed. Eleven characteristics are scored.
- Instream cover
- Pool bottom substrate
- Pool variability
- Canopy cover
- Runs versus riffles
- Channel alteration
- Channel sinuosity
- Bank Erosion
- Bank Vegetative Stability
- Streamside Cover
The assessment is completed during the fish collections and is documented at twenty (20) meter intervals for four hundred (400) meters. Most of the reach is fairly shallow (ankle to boot deep), but deep sections do exist along the creek which provides good pool variability. The creek has good instream cover that includes rock/boulders and submerged logs in the assessed area. The bottom substrate is stable gravel. During major storms the gravel can shift. At the bridge there is very little canopy cover to shade the creek; however, average canopy cover exists upstream from the bridge shading the water to keep it cool and more highly oxygenated. There is a good amount of riffles on Sycamore creek that creates turbulence, allowing the water to be oxygenated. The four hundred meter portion of the creek was assessed to be composed of 65% pool, 20% run and 15% riffle.
As expected, channel alteration occurs when high water levels exist. Most of the alteration observed is at the bridge. The riparian area at the bridge is challenged due to frequent damage during heavy rains since the bridge/culvert is frequently washed out. The subsequent work to replace the road damages the creek bank as the rock is moved. The bank material on the south end of the monitoring site is mostly medium size rock with very little organic material for vegetation to take root. This characteristic results in low vegetative stability in the bridge area. Despite that frequent disruption of the riparian area at the bridge, the remainder of Sycamore Creek generally has good instream cover, canopy, riffles, streamside cover, and bank stability. It also has moderate pool bottom, substrate variability, flow, and bank vegetation stability. Sycamore receives a low score in channel alteration and sinuosity. When compared to the Ozarks Highland Reference, the condition of Sycamore Creek has improved greatly between 2000 and 2009, increasing its habitat assessment score from 109 to 124.36 when compared to an ideal Ozarks Highlands reference stream (122).
Fish collection is conducted every three to five (3-5) years to determine the population and diversity of the creek. The latest fish collection was conducted by local volunteers and Blue Thumb staff on June 30, 2008 on a four hundred meter run described above. Fish collection involves the seining of approximately one quarter (¼) mile (400 meters) of the creek. Fish data is assessed using a modified version of Karr’s Index of Biotic Integrity by assessing the following categories;
- Total number of fish species
- Number of sensitive benthic species (darters, madtoms, sculpins)
- Number of sunfish species
- Number of intolerant species
- Proportion of tolerant individuals
- Proportion of individuals as insectivorous cyprinids
- Proportion of individuals as lithophilic spawners.
The site score is compared to the high quality site total score in the ecoregion. The score indicates the quality of the fish community.
During the collection, the sample did not result in larger fish being collected. This fact was attributed to the very clear water that is present in the creek which allowed the large fish to see the volunteers and to escape as they entered the area. The collection resulted in a total of 404 fish, including 11 intolerant species. The presence of these intolerant species indicate that the water conditions are good and when compared with the Ozark Highlands Reference, Sycamore Creek scored slightly better than the reference, receiving an score “A” which is considered comparable to pristine conditions with exceptional species assemblage. The following table lists the intolerant species collected.
|Southern redbelly dace
Macroinvertebrate Collections have taken place winter and summer since 2000, with the exception of summer 2007. The collections were made at rocky riffles where three one-meter areas are disturbed by kicking the substrate (rocks/mud). The sample is collected using a #35 mesh kick net. The samples generally contain sand, gravel, leaves and woody debris. When collected, the sample is placed in a glass jar and ethanol added to preserve the sample. At a later date, volunteers pick the sample, called “bug picking,” which involves dividing the sample to a size that results in a minimum population of one hundred (100) macroinvertebrates for analysis by a taxonomist.
Six (6) metrics are used to assess the macroinvertebrate community;
- Number of taxonomically different types of animals
- Modified Hilsenhoff Biotic Index - a measure of the invertebrate community’s tolerance for organic pollution.
- Percent EPT - a measure of how many individuals in the sample are members of the EPT group
- EPT Index - number of different taxa from the orders of the mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis flies.
- Percent dominant taxon - the percentage of the collection composed of the most common taxon.
- Shannon-Weaver Species Index - a measure of the evenness of the species distribution.
The results of the collection are compared to a respective metric of high quality streams in the ecoregion. Overall, Sycamore Creek scored better in the summer than in the winter. In nine winter samplings, 6 of the samples were given an “A” and 3 of them were given “B” in comparison to the Ozark Highland Reference. In summer samplings, Sycamore Creek consistently scored an “A” in comparison to the Ozark Highland Reference. The attributes of an “A” condition is that the sample is comparable to the best situation expected with the ecoregion with balanced trophic and community structure for the stream size. The attributes of a “B” condition is that the sample’s community structure is less than expected. The species richness is less than expected due to loss of some intolerant forms. The percent contribution of tolerant forms is increased.
Bacteria monitoring is accomplished by using the patented Coliscan Easygel medium. The Easygel bottles are frozen until use. Sampling is conducted by using a sterile pipette and placing a 1 to 5 ml sample of creek water into each bottle. Three (3) samples/bottles are taken at the time of monitoring. The volume of the sample (1-5 ml) is determined by trial - low levels of bacteria require a larger sample while higher levels require a smaller sample. Each sample is poured into a prepared Petri dish (prepared for the Coliscan system). The samples are allowed to set for a short time until the liquid solidifies. The samples are then placed in an incubator (foam ice chest with a incandescent night light) for approximately 30 hours. E. coli appear as purple colored colonies; other fecal coliforms appear pink. The number of E. coli colonies and the total number of colonies are counted in the three (3) samples. Non-fecal coliforms occur naturally from a wide variety of sources ranging from soil to warm blooded animals. Fecal coliforms are found naturally only in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including humans. The presence of fecal coliforms indicates contamination by animals or humans. They can cause severe illness in humans.
Bacteria monitoring is only done during the months of May, June, July, and August on Sycamore Creek. Monitoring has been conducted from 2006 through 2008. A 5 ml sample is taken each month. Each monitoring has resulted in a low E. coli population which indicates little contamination. Based on the results, Sycamore Creek scores in the low range for E. coli.
Chemical monitoring is generally conducted monthly at Sycamore Creek. Monitoring consists of taking a sample in a plastic sample bottle. The sample is tested for:
- Orthophosphate Phosphorus
- Soluble Nitrogen (Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrite)
In addition to the above tests, two (2) separate samples are collected for testing of dissolved oxygen (DO). These samples are treated at the site to fix the oxygen level for later testing.
Sycamore Creek has been monitored over 85 times since July 2001. Overall, Sycamore falls in the normal ranges for dissolved oxygen , orthophosphate phosphorus, chloride, and pH. Soluble nitrogen falls in the caution to poor range.
Overall, Sycamore Creek is a good quality stream in spite of the flow and habitat alteration that has taken place in recent years due to storms, flooding, bridge replacement, and grading done by the county maintenance. It is a good place for swimming and wading on a hot summer afternoon!