As he carefully examined a large, wet leaf, Cole Schoolfield spotted a tiny, long-legged brown bug and placed it in an ice-cube tray filled with water.
“Oh, Mr. Clampitt, what’s that?” he inquired of his teacher, Mark Clampitt.
“That’s a water strider,” he said. “That’s what they call Jesus bugs — they walk on water.”
A dozen eighth-graders at St. Paul School in St. Paul spent a recent morning searching for water striders and other aquatic macroinvertebrates, tested water quality and cleaned up a stretch of Peruque Creek in St. Charles County. The school has sponsored a Missouri Stream Team for the past two years, led by Clampitt. Their efforts are a model response to Pope Francis’ call for improved water quality and biodiversity, as detailed in his encyclical, “Laudato Si.”
The Missouri Stream Team program, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is a volunteer-led effort, with more than 5,800 registered teams that work to improve Missouri waterways. There are approximately 110,000 miles of streams in Missouri, including Peruque Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi River.
Students completed a visual observation of the creek’s surroundings, which included a residential area, pasture, farmland and surrounding woods. All of those types of land have an effect on the water quality, Clampitt explained to students. Crops sometimes are treated with chemicals, which run off into the water, for example.
Clampitt also had students perform several other tests, including dissolved oxygen, turbidity, pH, nitrates and temperature (“The hotter it is, the less oxygen there is in the water,” he said.) Data from those tests are reported to the Missouri Department of Conservation, which Clampitt said can be quite useful, especially when identifying a problem with water quality.
“In Lake St. Louis, they found that someone was washing trailers that haul cattle, and they found E. coli in the water,” he said.
But the highlight of the day was when students dredged the bottom of the creek with a wide net in search of benthic macroinvertebrates — tiny organisms without skeletons that dwell at the bottom of the water.
The Department of Conservation identifies two dozen organisms that are found in waterways, all of which are assessed a point value for their sensitivity to pollution. That means the more pollution-sensitive organisms found, the better the water quality, Clampitt said.
The eighth-graders were successful in their search, having found about a dozen species, including pollution-sensitive Hellgrammites, Mayfly Nymphs and Riffle Beetles. A score of 18-23 indicates “good” water quality, with a score of more than 23 as “excellent.”
“It turns out we had a score of 25, and that’s excellent,” Clampitt said.
Lessons spill over into the classroom, Clampitt said, including discussions on water quality and how that’s important for living things. “We talk about environmental issues and how that affects a stream,” he said, “how we should treat the land, which affects water. Everything that we do on land, clear cutting, burning, is going to affect that water. Even taking gravel out of it is going to straighten it and mess up the ecosystem.”
In “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis noted the urgent need to care for our ecosystems, including water quality. He wrote that care for the environment is a matter of “intergenerational justice.”
“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others,” Pope Francis wrote. “Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
Clampitt, who retired as a teacher from the Wentzville School District several years ago, led a Stream Team for nearly two decades while he was there. When he came to St. Paul School, he wanted to continue that, knowing that it’s an invaluable, hands-on lesson for students.
“To see them — they have not a clue that this is all in a stream. To see them say, ‘Look at this, look at that!’ They can’t keep their hands off it,” he said. “I enjoy seeing them discover something that they didn’t know about and how it ties together with the environment.”
Missouri Stream Team Program
Sponsored by the Missouri
Department of Conservation with the Department of Natural Resources and
the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the Missouri Stream Team
Program is marking its 30th anniversary. The program includes more than
5,800 registered teams that volunteer their time improving more than
110,000 miles of streams in the state of Missouri. Teams test water
quality and organize scheduled stream cleanups, among other activities.
For more information or to register a team, visit www.mostreamteam.org.
year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Missouri Stream Team
Watershed Coalition, also known as Stream Teams United, a nonprofit
organization that supports the work of the Stream Team Program through
education, advocacy and stewardship efforts. For more information, visit
Catholic-affiliated teams in the St. Louis area include the following:
• St. Paul Knights (in St. Paul)
• Christ the King
• Saint Joseph’s Academy
• Saint Joseph Institute for the Deaf
• Villa Duchesne at Oak Hill School
• Oak Hill Explorers
• Saint Louis Priory School (two teams)
• St. Ann School Streamers
• St. Albert’s Water Rangers
• St. Peter (Kirkwood) American Heritage Girls
• St. Clare of Assisi American Heritage Girls
• St. Genevieve du Bois School Team
• Fleur de Lis (Ste. Genevieve)