GAITHERSBURG, MD – The Izaak Walton League of America, a leader in community-based conservation, celebrates the 40th Anniversary of its landmark Save Our Streams (SOS) Program this year. With the creation of SOS, the League pioneered citizen-based stream monitoring and gave people everywhere a simple, reliable tool to assess and protect the streams where they live.
“As a national conservation organization formed by anglers and named after one of the most famous fishermen in history, the League has always placed a special emphasis on protecting water quality,” said Leah Miller, the League’s director of Clean Water Programs. “Over the past 40 years, SOS has helped citizens to analyze water quality, identify problems, and develop solutions that protect waters essential for drinking and fish and wildlife.”
Save Our Streams was born in 1969 when League members in Maryland modeled a stream adoption program after the state’s adopt-a-highway program. In the beginning, League members and others checked streams regularly for siltation and barriers to fish passage. They reported water pollution problems to the appropriate local and state authorities, removed trash and debris, and educated the public about how to prevent water pollution. Later, Save Our Streams became one of the first programs to successfully train volunteers to assess water quality using a simple, accurate method based on the presence and diversity of stream insects and crustaceans. By examining the number and variety of aquatic bugs, volunteers can determine if a waterway is in trouble. The SOS stream monitoring method was also one of the first to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a method to collect useful and scientifically valid information about water quality. Thousands of volunteers across the country use the SOS method and other League resources to determine water quality and protect streams in trouble. Dozens of states adopted volunteer-monitoring programs based on Save Our Streams.
The SOS method can be used to achieve a wide range of conservation outcomes, including:
• Identifying sources of water pollution – The SOS monitoring method is based on a simple premise – a healthy stream will include an abundance of common insects. When this is not the case, citizens using SOS can begin investing to determine why. After members of the League’s Des Moines (Iowa) Chapter found a dramatic decline in the number of bugs in Yeader Creek, they discovered the problem was caused by de-icing chemicals at the Des Moines International airport. They alerted local authorities and steps were taken to stop the pollution.
• Protecting fish and wildlife habitat – The presence of aquatic insects and water quality are affected by many factors, including the amount of vegetation along streams, bank erosion, and sediment. Fish populations in particular decline as essential food sources, especially insects, disappear. Over nearly a decade, the League’s York (Pennsylvania) Chapter has restored nearly nine miles of prime trout habitat in Codorus Creek through stream-side tree plantings, cattle fencing, and bank stabilization projects.
• Improving public policy – Monitoring results collected by SOS volunteers are frequently used to impact public policy. High school students in Syracuse, New York knew that a stream on school grounds had consistently high water quality based on regularly SOS monitoring. They used this information and other facts to convince local zoning officials not to permit new development that could degrade water quality.
• Connecting children with nature – It’s hard to think of a better way to get kids outside and learning about the natural world than offering them a chance to look for bugs in a local stream. For twenty years, the League’s Austin (Minnesota) Chapter has used SOS monitoring to introduce seventh grade students to the outdoors using local streams as living classrooms. Students also use the data they collect for follow-up exercises in class.
“Although water quality has improved significantly over the past 40 years, many challenges remain,” said Miller. “According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 40 percent of the nation’s assessed waters are not fishable or swimmable. Non-point source pollution – runoff from lawns, parking lots and fields – is the most significant threat to water quality today. Tackling this problem requires action at the local level, and SOS can help a new generation of citizens to protect their waters.”
To commemorate the SOS anniversary, the Izaak Walton League is providing information and tools to help volunteers save streams in their communities. Our Web site includes excellent project ideas, resources, and step-by-step instructions for stream-saving activities. Highlights include a planning guide to stream cleanups, everything you need to know to find out how clean your water is, and other exciting hands-on conservation and education projects. More information is available at http://www.iwla.org/sos .