Michigan Geographic Alliance
Environmental Science
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Lesson Plan
Middle School
Envrionment, Envrionmental, MEECS
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

Education Standards

Water Quality Lesson 7 : How Healthy Is This Stram?


Students are introduced to the physical, chemical, and
biological characteristics of an ecologically healthy
stream and to the procedures used by scientists and
aquatic biologists for assessing the health of a stream.

Lesson Overview

Students are introduced to the physical, chemical, and
biological characteristics of an ecologically healthy
stream and to the procedures used by scientists and
aquatic biologists for assessing the health of a stream.
Students use their new knowledge to compare four
Michigan streams and select the best for planting
young brook trout after evaluating bioindicators,
habitat, and water quality data provided. Evaluation
of student-collected data and creation of a concept map
are used to assess students’ understanding.

Focus Questions
Students answer these essential questions: What is
stream monitoring, and how is it done? How do you
know if a stream is healthy? What are bioindicators?
What makes good habitat for fish?

Subject/Target Grade
Science and Social Studies/Middle School (6-8)
Two 50-minute class periods – Classroom setting
per class
• balance (optional)
• 1 gram weight per student (optional)
Comparison of Two Streams PowerPoint
(on MEECS Water Quality CD)
Designing A Stream Monitoring Investigation
15-minute PowerPoint (on MEECS Water
Quality CD)
Designing A Stream Investigation (answer key)
• computer projector
Aquatic Food Chain in a Stream (transparency
Where Should the Brook Trout Be Planted?
Stream Assessment Data Table
(answer key)
• page with color photo of each river: Clinton
River, Coles Creek, Gilkey Creek, and Au
Sable River (on MEECS Water Quality CD)
• samples of live or preserved benthic
macroinvertebrates (optional)
Aquatic Invertebrates & Water Quality video
Biological Assessment Data Form 
(transparency master)
Stream Habitat Assessment Form
(transparency master)
Habitat Assessment PowerPoint (on MEECS
Water Quality CD) (optional)
Macroinvertebrate Identification PowerPoint
(on MEECS Water Quality CD) (optional)
Hart Middle School Students: First
Responders to Erosion Mishap photos
MEECS Water Quality CD)
Hart Middle School Students: First Responders
to Erosion Mishap
(answer key)
• sample Stream Health concept map

per small group
• Page with color photo of each river: Clinton
River, Coles Creek, Gilkey Creek, and Au
Sable River (on MEECS Water Quality CD)

per student
• Background Information/Student Reading
Designing a Stream Investigation (student activity)

Where Should the Brook Trout Be
Student Packet containing:
Where Should the Brook Trout Be
– Stream Assessment Data Table
– Data page for each stream: Au
Sable River, Clinton River, Coles
Creek, Gilkey Creek
– Stream Ecology: Temp/pH/DO
– Biological Assessment Data Form
– Stream Habitat Assessment Form
Who Is Protecting Michigan’s Rivers
and Streams?
(student activity)
Hart Middle School Students: First
Responders to Erosion Mishap

(student assessment)
Stream Health concept map (student



Students will be able to:
1. List characteristics of a healthy stream
and “good” trout stream habitat.
2. Define “benthic macroinvertebrates” and explain
their role in the aquatic food chain.
3. Classify common stream macroinvertebrates
as pollution-sensitive, somewhat pollution
sensitive, or pollution-tolerant, and explain why
macroinvertebrates are used as bioindicators of
stream health.
4. Interpret water quality, bioassessment, and stream
habitat data to make resource management decisions.

Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations
Grade 6-7 Science:
• Describe the effect humans and other organisms have on the balance of the
natural world. S.RS.M17
• Classify organisms based on their source of energy for growth and
development. L.0L.06.51
• Classify substances by their chemical properties P.PM.07.11
• List examples of physical and chemical properties of elements and compounds.
• Identify evidence of chemical change (e.g. water quality testing). P.CM.07.21
• Describe evidence that plants make, use and store food. L.0L.07.63
• Explain how human activities change the surface of the earth and affect the
survival of organisms. E.ES.07.41
• Describe the origins of pollution in the atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere
and how pollution impacts habitats, climatic change, threatens or endangers
species. E.ES.07.42
• Analyze the flow of water between components of a watershed, including
surface features and groundwater. E.ES.07.82

Grades 6-8 Social Studies:
• Describe the environmental effects of human action on the atmosphere,
biosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. 6 – G5.1.1, 7 – G5.1.1
• Engage in activities intended to contribute to solving a national or international
problem. 6 – P4.2.2, 7 – P4.2.2, 8 – P4.2.2
• Read and interpret data in tables and graph. P2.2
• Describe the effects that a change in the physical environment could have on
human activities and the choices people would have to make in adjusting to the
change. 7 - G5.2.1
• Participate in projects to help or inform others (e.g. service learning projects).
7 - P4.2.3, 8 - P4.2.3

HS Earth Science:
• Generate new questions that can be investigated in the lab or field. E1.1A
• Evaluate the uncertainties or validity of scientific conclusions E1.1B
• Conduct scientific investigations using appropriate tools and techniques. E1.1C
• Describe a reason for a given conclusion using evidence from an investigation.
• Predict what would happen if variables, methods, or timing were changed
• Based on empirical evidence, explain and critique the reasoning used to draw a
scientific conclusion. E1.1g
• Design and conduct a systematic scientific investigation. E1.1h
• Critique whether specific questions can be answered through scientific
investigations. E1.2A
• Evaluate scientific explanations in a peer review process or discussion format.
• Explore future career and occupational opportunities of science fields. E1.2E
• Explain how water quality in both groundwater and surface systems is
impacted by land use decisions. E4.1C

HS Biology:
• Scientific Inquiry (See HSCEs listed for Earth Science) BI.1
• Scientific Reflection and Social Implications (See HSCEs listed for Earth
Science) BI.2
• Draw the flow of energy through an ecosystem. Predict changes in the food
web when one or more organisms are removed. B3.2C
• Examine the negative impact of human activities. B3.4C
• Recognize that and describe how the physical or chemical environment may
influence the rate, extent, and nature of population dynamics within ecosystems.
• Participate in projects to help or inform others (e.g. service learning projects).
7 - P4.2.3, 8 - P4.2.3


Advance Preparation

1. Set up the ‘student hook’ by placing a balance
and a supply of gram weights near the door,
with the question “Should we stock all Michigan
streams with fish or let fish naturally populate
streams?” posted nearby. Label one side of the
balance “Yes” and the other side “No.”

2. Copy and distribute the Background Information
(Student Reading) for students to read for
homework prior to this lesson.

3. Copy and assemble packets for Where Should
the Brook Trout Be Planted?
for each student:
Where Should the Brook Trout Be Planted?
• Stream Assessment Data Table
• Data page for each stream: Au Sable River,
Clinton River, Coles Creek, Gilkey Creek
• Biological Assessment Data Form
• Stream Ecology Information: temp/pH/DO
• Stream Habitat Assessment Form
• Page with four photos of each stream (may be
printed from MEECS Water Quality CD per
student group, or the teacher may project in
color onto a screen for the entire class to use).

Note: Students will work in small
groups, but each student should have
their own packet.

Background Information (Student Reading)

Michigan’s 35,000 miles of rivers and streams
make the state a “water wonderland” and a fish,
wildlife, and recreation paradise. This tremendous
resource contributes significantly to our economy
and quality of life, largely due to national and state
environmental protection laws, careful enforcement
by government agencies, and active stewardship
of our water resources by industry, business,
agriculture, forestry, watershed councils and other
organizations, and concerned citizens of Michigan.

Michigan’s Rivers: A Dirty Past and
A Promising Future

Michigan’s water wonderland wasn’t always so
“wonderful.” There was a time when there were no
environmental protection laws. In the early 1900s,
unregulated industrial and municipal discharges
regularly spewed waste oil, chemicals, and untreated
sewage from cities and towns directly into rivers
and the Great Lakes. Apathy about the oil- and
sewage-matted rivers changed in 1948 when angry sportsmen with the Michigan United Conservation
Clubs (, outraged by the
deaths of thousands of ducks on the Detroit River,
dumped truckloads of oil-soaked duck carcasses
on the sidewalk of the State Capitol in Lansing
in protest. The dumping of organic waste into the
Kalamazoo River by paper companies consumed
the river’s oxygen and resulted in a massive fish kill
in the 1950s, attracting national media attention.
While local citizens sought an injunction to halt
the paper mills’ pollution of the river, it would
be the mid-1960s before the river’s recovery
would finally begin in earnest. See a timeline of
Michigan’s conservation progress at: http://www., or
a pictorial presentation of Michigan’s conservation
history at:

Many other Michigan rivers were choked with
algae in the 1960’s due to discharges high in
phosphates from household laundry detergents.
While phosphorus is an important nutrient used in 

fertilizers to promote crop and lawn growth, the
discharge of large amounts of phosphates into water
bodies causes algal blooms. When the algae dies, it
consumes most or all of the dissolved oxygen in the
water during the decomposition process, resulting
in fish kills and “dead zones” (areas without
dissolved oxygen that can no longer support fish
and other aquatic organisms, like the Lake Erie and
Gulf of Mexico dead zones). Phosphorus in water is
generally not more than 0.1 ppm, unless the water
is polluted with human wastes and detergents from
wastewater treatment plants or septic systems,
or fertilizer runoff from golf courses, lawns, and
farming areas. In the last century, some rivers were
so polluted that they caught fire! The Cuyahoga
River near Cleveland, OH and the Rouge River in
Detroit gained unwanted national attention when
their polluted surfaces caught fire several times.

New Laws Are Passed
These events helped to encourage passage of the
Michigan Environmental Protection Act of
and the national Clean Water Act of 1972
which required industry to get permits before
discharging contaminants and required cities to
build sewage treatment plants. A ban on the sale of
high phosphate household laundry detergents was
passed in Michigan in 1977. The 1987 amendments
(Section 319) to the federal Clean Water Act
required states to develop programs to control
nonpoint sources of pollution from farms, and urban
and residential areas that were continuing to foul
the nation’s and Michigan’s streams, rivers, and
lakes. While the condition of our waterways has
improved, many are still being polluted by nonpoint
sources of pollution, such as storm water runoff,

combined sewer overflows, fertilizer and pesticide-
laden agricultural and lawn runoff, atmospheric

pollutants that fall into the water, motor oil
swept into storm drains from parking lots during
rainstorms, and erosion from stream banks where
soil-holding shrubs and trees have been removed.
Despite laws aimed at preventing pollution, one
of the largest oil spills in the history of the U.S.
occurred in 2010 where three million litres (800,000
gallons) of oil poured into the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan from a leaking pipeline. Most of
the oil settled to the river bottom, making removal
a challenging task. After one year, only 10% of the
submerged oil had been removed. Nearly 2,500
people were needed when the spill first occurred and
550 were still working on the cleanup a year later,
with more than 55 kilometres of the Kalamazoo
River and a nearby creek still closed to the public.
The spill came within about 130 kilometres
(80 miles) of where the river empties into Lake
Land use decisions made by hundreds of townships,
counties, and cities throughout Michigan have
the potential to positively or negatively impact
the future health of Michigan’s rivers, streams,
and ultimately the Great Lakes. Each decision to
build a new mini-mall, big box store, or housing
development that requires paving over a forest, farm
field, or wetland reduces infiltration of rain and
snow into the soil, reduces groundwater recharge,
and increases runoff to streams, rivers, and lakes
when the vegetation along waterways is removed.
Working together to protect and restore the
watersheds of Michigan’s rivers, streams, and the
Great Lakes is the most effective way to improve
water quality and enhance aquatic ecosystems.

Who Monitors Michigan’s Water Quality?
In Michigan, the Department of Environmental
Quality (DEQ) has primary responsibility for
monitoring the water quality of Michigan’s streams,
rivers, and lakes to track their ecological health
(recall the U.S. Geological Survey is the primary
agency conducting water quantity or stream flow
measurements). Limited staffing results in most
streams being monitored by the state once every five
years. There is a great need for Michigan citizens
to step in and assist with conducting more frequent
water quality monitoring. This task is accomplished
by many watershed councils, lake associations,
school classes, and other citizen monitoring efforts
throughout the state. The Great Lakes Commission
administers Michigan’s volunteer stream monitoring
program. Their website (
contains volunteer stream monitoring data forms, resources, protocols, and grant information. To
become involved in volunteer stream monitoring,
see the list of watershed councils in Michigan at
the end of this lesson or contact MiCorps. The U.S.
Geological Survey, the USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service, and the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency also conduct limited water
quality monitoring.

How Can We Tell if a Stream Is Healthy?
There are four basic measures of stream health:
stream habitat quality, bioindicators, physical
channel characteristics, and water quality. It is
important to note that what is considered healthy
for a particular stream will vary with the natural
conditions for that stream—its geology, glacial
history, gradient, climate, vegetation—prior to any
alteration by past or present human activities.
Fishery biologists commonly group streams
according to whether they are cold-water streams or
warm-water streams. Typically, cold-water streams
are found in the northern half of Michigan, at higher
elevations, and/or are fed mostly by groundwater.
Cold water streams tend to be steeper in gradient,
with faster moving water and riffle areas common,
cooler temperatures, and a rocky bottom. Cold water
streams are usually well-shaded by mixed hardwood
(e.g., maple, beech, oak) or conifer forests. Cold
water streams can typically support sculpins and
trout—brook, cutthroat, rainbow and brown—and/or
coho and Chinook salmon. However, not all cold
water streams will have all of these species, and not
all of these species of trout and salmon are native to
all regions. For example, brook trout are the only
trout native to Michigan commonly found in cold
water streams.
A typical warm-water stream has little gradient as
it flows through a flatter landscape, with warmer
temperatures, and a soft sandy or muddy (clay)
bottom. Warm water streams often flow through
more open forests which allow more sunlight to
reach and warm the water. Oftentimes, the natural
streamside vegetation has been altered or removed by human development. Common warm water fish
species include suckers, minnows, bass, sunfish,
rock bass, yellow perch, bullhead, and catfish.

Stream Habitat
Stream habitat
is the availability of food,
water, shelter, oxygen, and space in the proper
arrangement. A healthy cold water stream has:
• Year-round (perennial) stream flow,
• Mostly gravel channel-bottom materials,
• Clear water with little suspended sediment,
• Diversity of native streamside (riparian)
vegetation (trees, shrubs, grasses, flowering
plants) of different ages whose roots hold the
soil and stream bank in place during high flows
and make it more resistant to erosion,
• Overhanging trees and shrubs that provide
shelter, shade, cooler water temperatures, and a
source of leaves (plant material) to the stream
ecosystem (leaves falling into streams are the
base of the food chain in the stream),
• Sinuous, curvy channel,
• Diverse in-stream habitats, including pools,
runs, and riffles. Pools are the deeper parts of
the stream that form on bends, behind log jams,
at plunge sites, etc. Pools have a lower velocity
and a smooth, glassy surface. They provide
cool, more oxygenated water in summer and
are least likely to freeze in winter. Riffles are
stretches of stream with small ripples where
rocks break the water’s surface, adding oxygen.
Runs or glides are lengths of stream where
water runs with a smooth, unbroken surface.
The stream bottom is extremely important to
the organisms that live there. The stream bottom
is where benthic macroinvertebrates feed, live,
and reproduce. These macroinvertebrates are an
important source of food for fish, who reproduce,
lay their eggs, and rear their young in stream
gravels. Too much sediment can impact fish and
macroinvertebrate habitat by covering stream
bottom gravels. Fine sediment suspended in the
water makes the water turbid or cloudy and reduces
the amount of sunlight shining through the water, limiting the ability of algae and aquatic plants to
photosynthesize and produce dissolved oxygen.

When the natural woody vegetation is removed or
replaced by shallow-rooted, lawns or crops, stream
banks erode causing sediment to enter the stream.
The stream channel begins to deepen or widen.
Wider channels mean shallower water that warms
faster, lowering dissolved oxygen levels.

Benthic macroinvertebrates play a key role as
bioindicators of stream health and water quality.
Benthic means “bottom-dwelling,” macro means
“large enough to be seen by the unaided eye,” and
invertebrate means “without backbone.” Benthic
macroinvertebrates are good bioindicators of
environmental quality for the following reasons:
• Unlike fish that can swim away from pollution,
benthic macroinvertebrates are relatively
• Macroinvertebrates can be divided into three
groups: pollution-sensitive, somewhat pollution
sensitive, and pollution-tolerant.
• Macroinvertebrates often have short life cycles,
and some even have several generations in one
• They are easy to collect and identify to broad
groups, e.g., order or family.

Some examples of benthic macroinvertebrate
bioindicators are:
• Pollution-sensitive: stonefly nymphs, caddisfly
larvae, (most) mayfly nymphs, hellgrammites
(dobsonflies), gilled snails, and water penny
• Somewhat pollution sensitive: dragonfly and
damselfly nymphs, crane fly larvae, beetle adults
and larvae
• Pollution-tolerant: aquatic worms, midge fly
larva, pouch snail, true bugs, true flies, water
striders, backswimmers, etc.
(see Biological Assessment Data Form)

In addition to being good indicators of stream
health, benthic macroinvertebrates are a critical part
of the stream food chain and the stream ecosystem
(see Aquatic Food Chain in a Stream overhead
transparency). These macroinvertebrates are
essential to the flow of energy and nutrients in the
stream. They can be categorized by their feeding
groups, i.e., the type of food they eat and the manner
in which they obtain their food:
• Shredders (eat leaves falling into the stream)
• Collectors (eat by filtering or collecting from the
stream bottom)
• Grazers (eat algae off rocks and wood)
• Predators (eat other macroinvertebrates and
small fish)

Physical Characteristics
The most important physical stream characteristic
is having year-round or perennial stream flow
to support an aquatic ecosystem. Other physical
characteristics include volume and velocity of flow.
As we learned in Lesson 3, measurements of a
stream’s width and depth can be used to calculate
volume. One can monitor how the profile or shape
of the stream channel changes over time in response
to natural or human-caused events. One can measure
stream velocity by timing how long it takes a
floating stick or other object to travel a known
distance (feet or meter per second). Stream flow
(discharge) = height x width x velocity, which is
the volume of water moving past a point in a unit of
time (cubic feet or cubic meter per second). Changes
to physical stream measurements may occur in
response to changes in land use activities. For example, land uses that increase stream discharge
include loss of wetlands, cutting down large
numbers of trees in the watershed, and increasing
urban development and paved areas. Greater stream
discharge means more energy to carry bed load
(boulders, cobbles, gravels, sand, and silt) and
debris and more energy to erode stream banks,
causing sediment to enter the stream.

Water Quality
Besides contaminants, the most important water
quality parameters to measure are temperature,
pH, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen, as these
directly determine which species can live in a
particular stream.
Temperature determines the amount of
dissolved oxygen the water can hold. Cooler
water temperatures with more dissolved oxygen support cold-water fish species and pollution-
sensitive species of macroinvertebrates, such as stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies.
Warmer water with less oxygen supports
warm water fish species and pollution-tolerant

• pH is a measure of acidity and ranges from 0-14,
with 7.0 neutral.
• Turbidity is a measure of the cloudiness in the
water caused by suspended sediment or high
concentrations of microscopic algae due to
excess nutrients in the water. Sediment buries
fish eggs and macroinvertebrates, damages gills,
and interferes with the ability of fish to find
• Dissolved oxygen (DO) is essential for aquatic
organisms. Lack of oxygen in the water can
cause many macroinvertebrates and fish to die.
Organic materials from wastewater treatment
plant discharges, industrial discharges, runoff
of human and livestock wastes remove oxygen
dissolved in the water. Warm-water fish need
4 ppm dissolved oxygen, and cold-water fish
species need at least 6 ppm to survive.


1. Hook Your Students: Should we stock all
Michigan streams with fish or let fish naturally
populate the streams?

Ask students to respond to this question by
placing a gram weight on a balance placed near
the entry to the classroom with the question
posted nearby. Label one side of the balance
“No” and the other side “Yes.” Discuss students’
responses after the Where Should the Brook
Trout Be Planted? student activity.

2. What do fish in Michigan streams and rivers
need to live?

A habitat is the living and non-living
environment of an organism, or population of  organisms, that provides the essentials for life.
Animals require food, water, shelter/cover,
oxygen, and space in the proper arrangement.
Different species of organisms have different
habitat needs and can survive under widely
differing environmental conditions. Some
organisms are very sensitive to the presence
of pollution and have very narrow habitat
requirements, while others can tolerate a wide variety of conditions, including pollution. Cold-
water fish species (e.g., brook trout) require high levels of dissolved oxygen, year-round stream
flows, clear water (no turbidity), and a hard,
gravel stream bottom. Warm-water fish species
(e.g., bass, crappie) can tolerate low levels of
dissolved oxygen, variable stream flows, muddy
water (high turbidity), and a soft, silty stream

3. Compare Bocco Creek and Linden Creek.
Display the PowerPoint slide of the two creeks
side by side. Which appears to have habitat
better suited for a cold-water fish species, such
as a native brook trout?
Have students make a
drawing of each stream in their science journal
and list the characteristics of each stream.
Bocco Creek has a greater diversity of
vegetation—trees, shrubs, and grasses—along
the stream banks, providing more shade and
cooler water temperatures. There are rocks on
the stream bottom, curves in the channel, and the
water is clear (can see bottom). Bocco Creek is a
good stream for cold-water fish.
Linden Creek has only grass and bare rocks
along its human-made, straightened channel.
There are no overhanging trees or shrubs to
shade and cool the water, and therefore less
dissolved oxygen is available. It is difficult to
see the channel bottom, indicating the possibility
of suspended sediment or turbid water. Linden
Creek appears more suitable for warm-water fish.

4. How can we determine if a stream is healthy?
How does a doctor determine whether you
are healthy or not?
When you visit the doctor
for a checkup, the doctor gathers background
information by asking questions, performs a
series of tests (pulse rate, blood pressure, etc.)
that help to assess your health, and compares
your measurements to typical conditions of
healthy people. Measurements out of the normal
range will lead to more advanced tests.
Stream ecologists and water resource specialists
are like “stream doctors.” They follow a similar
procedure when investigating the health of a
stream. Stream monitoring includes evaluating
physical, chemical (water quality), biological,
and habitat characteristics of a stream. A water
chemist, fisheries biologist, hydrologist, aquatic
biologist, and stream ecologist may all be
involved in assessing the health of a stream.

Show the PowerPoint presentation Designing
a Stream Monitoring Investigation
to illustrate
the characteristics of a healthy stream and to
demonstrate the methodology for assessing a
stream’s ecological health.
After the presentation, distribute copies of
Designing a Stream Investigation student page
for students to complete (individually or in small
groups) or it may be assigned for homework.
Discuss students’ responses.

Optional: show the 7-minute video
Aquatic Invertebrates and Water Quality that
shows close-ups of live macroinvertebreates,
arranged by pollution category.

5. How are bioindicators used to evaluate the
health of a stream?

Display the Aquatic Food Chain overhead
transparency and discuss the role of
macroinvertebrates in the food chain and their
use as bioindicators.
What is a bioindicator? [Any living organism
whose presence indicates the quality of the
environment. For example, canaries were
used in early coal mines to indicate air quality.
Because the canary was more sensitive to high
levels of methane and carbon monoxide, if the
canary died, the miners knew to exit the mine
What are benthic macroinvertebrates? [Benthic
means bottom-dwelling, and macroinvertebrate
refers to an organism that does not have a
backbone and is large enough to be seen by the
unaided eye.]
Why are benthic macroinvertebrates useful
[They are not mobile, are fairly easy
to identify, have short life cycles (less than a year),
and do not require expensive equipment to collect.]

How does water quality influence the types of
benthic macroinvertebrates that can live in a
[Different types of macroinvertebrates
have different tolerances or requirements for
temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity,
and habitat.]
Review the three categories of macroinvertebrate
groups according to their pollution tolerances:
• Pollution-sensitive: stonefly nymphs, caddisfly
larvae, (most) mayfly nymphs, hellgrammites
(dobsonflies), gilled snails, and water pennies
• Somewhat pollution sensitive: dragonfly and
damselfly nymphs, cranefly larvae, beetle
adults and larvae
• Pollution-tolerant: aquatic worms, midge fly
larvae, pouch snail, “true” bugs, “true” flies,
water striders, backswimmers, etc.

6. The Challenge: In which stream should the
brook trout be planted?

Organize students into small groups and
distribute Where Should the Brook Trout Be
student packets:
• Where Should the Brook Trout Be Planted?
• Stream Assessment Data Table
• Data page for each stream: Au Sable River,
Clinton River, Coles Creek, Gilkey Creek
• Biological Assessment Data Form
• Stream Ecology Information: temp/pH/DO
• Stream Habitat Assessment Form
• Photos of four streams (one per group).
Tell students that they will be fisheries biologists
with the Michigan Department of Natural
Resources. Their job is to determine which
stream (Clinton River, Coles Creek, Gilkey
Creek, or Au Sable River) is best suited for
planting small brook trout fish fry raised in
Michigan’s fish hatcheries.
Demonstrate how to use each of the data forms
using the overhead transparencies. Assign student groups to evaluate all four streams,
or assign one stream to each group, if time is
limited. Students will:
• Review the brook trout’s water quality
and habitat requirements and record in the
Stream Assessment Data Table.
• Conduct a biological assessment by classifying
and counting the individual macroinvertebrates
found in each stream, tallying the score(s)
on the Biological Assessment Data Form,
and recording the final score(s) in the Stream
Assessment Data Table. NOTE: students
should count each organism in the box, not
just the number of boxes, to get the score.

• Review the water quality data (dissolved
oxygen, temperature, turbidity, pH) for each
stream and record in the Stream Assessment
Data Table.

• Conduct a habitat assessment for each stream
using the page with photographs of the four
streams and the Stream Habitat Assessment

• Compare the data for the four streams and
select the stream that will provide the best
habitat for the brook trout throughout its
life cycle. Give three reasons for the stream
Have student groups record their data on the same
table (overhead transparency) to show the class.
Discuss students’ findings and recommendations.
Could they have determined the best stream by
sight alone?
[No, a stream ecologist needs to
collect data on water quality, habitat, physical
characteristics, and bioindicators in order to have
a complete understanding of a stream’s “health.”]

Outdoor Connection
After this lesson, take students on a stream
monitoring field trip to collect data on a local stream
for comparison with the data on four Michigan
streams provided in the lesson. Water quality
monitoring kits and nets for sampling benthic
macroinvertebrates are often available from a local watershed council, intermediate school district,
math/science center, county conservation district, or
Michigan State University Extension office. Stream
monitoring data forms to record water quality,
physical channel measurements, bioindicators, and
stream habitat are provided on the MEECS Water
Quality CD.

Michigan’s six state fish hatcheries produce
13 million trout and salmon and 30 million
walleye, muskellunge (muskies), and sturgeon
annually. That’s a total of 600,000-700,000
pounds of fish a year for Michigan’s public
fishing waters! Approximately 40% of all
recreational fishing in Michigan depends
on stocked fish. The goal of Michigan’s fish
hatcheries is to hatch, rear, and transport fish
required for both the Great Lakes and inland
streams, rivers, and lakes. Find out more
about Michigan fish hatcheries at:

7. Tying it all together.
Who is protecting Michigan’s streams?
Distribute Who Is Protecting Michigan’s Rivers
and Streams?
to pairs or groups of students.
Have students use the Internet to learn about the
organizations listed on the student page, either in
class or as homework.
After students have done some research, discuss:
• Whose job it is to protect Michigan’s
streams? Is it up to the federal
government? State government? County
or city government? Water users? Citizen’s
• Why do people form watershed councils?
• Why do some people not like environmental
• Why do laws sometimes change?
• Who makes the laws?
• Does it cost money to meet the requirements
of a law?
• What would happen if there were no laws to
protect water quality?
• What can we do to protect the streams and
rivers in Michigan?

Assessment Option

1. Distribute Hart Middle School Students: First
Responders to Erosion Mishap on Stoney Creek!
Students complete a short reading and answer
questions to demonstrate what they have learned
about bioindicators and data collection. See
photos of Stoney Creek on the MEECS Water
Quality CD.

2. Have students draw a concept map for Stream
Health (see sample at end of lesson).


1. Do the online web module Stream Monitoring
developed by Michigan Technological
University (
meec_index.htm) where students compare the
characteristics of three streams to determine
which is healthiest. Alternatively, have students
do the web module Aquatic Ecosystems: Rivers
and Streams
to see how streams are formed
and investigate what habitat characteristics are
essential for Lake Sturgeon survival during their
juvenile years in Michigan streams.

2. Have students Design a Macroinvertebrate
in class or for homework. Students select
a macroinvertebrate to create using clay,
toothpicks, yarn, etc., showing as much detail
as possible. Students present their model to the
class, describing its distinguishing characteristics
and identifying whether it is sensitive, somewhat
sensitive, or tolerant to pollution. Alternatively,
students may exchange their macroinvertebrate
models and see if another student can determine
its correct identity. See Additional Resources
and Macroinvertebrate Identification websites.

Additional Resources

Michigan Council Trout Unlimited is a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving habitat for trout and encouraging angling as a sport. Visit their website to find a Michigan chapter near you
( Also provides an online Michigan Trout Streams (Insect) Emergence Schedule. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division has lots of information on Michigan fish, fish hatcheries, and fish-stocking efforts. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

Michigan’s Conservation Districts can provide information on local watershed planning efforts and stream assessments. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from

MiCorps: Michigan’s Clean Water Corps, coordinated by the Great Lakes Commission, administers Michigan’s volunteer stream monitoring program. Their website contains volunteer stream monitoring
data forms, resources, protocols, opportunities for reporting and exchanging stream monitoring data,
and grant information. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

Riparian Zone Management and Trout Streams: 21st Century and Beyond explains the importance of riparian corridors, old-growth forests, large woody debris, and species diversity in the management of trout streams. Tonello, Mark, et al. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

Surf Your Watershed is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website that provides links to information about a selected watershed. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

Volunteer Monitor is a national newsletter published twice yearly by the U.S. EPA to facilitate the exchange of ideas, monitoring methods, and practical advice among volunteer monitoring groups. Available by subscription or online. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from

Volunteer Stream Monitoring: A Methods Manual (1997), available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides a framework for organizing your own stream study, including quality assurance. Retrieved December 28, 2011 (search for this publication online by its title).

Wetland Bioassessment Methods describes wetland monitoring methods identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for assessing water levels, vegetation types, water quality, and composition of plant and animal assemblages. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from


Macroinvertebrate Identification Websites & References

Invertebrates as Indicators is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website with information about benthic macroinvertebrates’ identification, ecology, and use as a bioindicator, plus links to many other useful websites. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from

Search “Benthic Macroinvetebrates” for a wealth of ID resources.

Guide to Aquatic Macroinvertebrates of the Upper Midwest: An Identification Manual for Students, Citizen Monitors, and Aquatic Resource Professionals by R.W. Bouchard Jr., University of Minnesota Extension. (available online, or a book may be ordered) Retrieved July 10, 2018 from:

A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America is an excellent guide to family-level invertebrate identification, with wonderful pictures and excellent background information on the organisms. It contains the fundamentals of freshwater invertebrate biology, as well as general information about habitat, feeding, movement, breathing, life history, and stress tolerance, plus a “Quick Guide” for identification of each specific group. Voshell Jr., J. Reese. (2003). Blacksburg, VA: MacDonald and Woodward Publishing Co.

Multi-Media Connections

Aquatic Invertebrates and Water Quality is a 7-minute introduction to the use of aquatic invertebrates to assess water quality. Contains great close-up photography of macroinvertebrates under the microscope to observe characteristics and behavior. Missoula Conservation District. (1989). Missoula, MT: Missoula Conservation District.
To order:

Literature Connections

A River Ran Wild is a true story that traces the ecological evolution of a river—how it was respected by generations of Native Americans, polluted and ultimately deadened in the wake of the industrial revolution and restored in recent years through the efforts of concerned citizens. Cherry, Lynne. (1992). A River Ran Wild. New York: Harcourt & Brace.

Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban-Industrial Rivers that Caught on Fire is about four urban-industrial rivers in the Great Lakes Basin that were so polluted they caught fire: Buffalo River in New York, Cuyahoga River in Ohio, Rouge River in SE Michigan, and the Chicago River in Illinois. Their condition then and the work taken to restore them to ‘health’ is described. Hartig, John. (2010). Multi-Science Publishing Co.

Journaling at the Water’s Edge is a student journal for water quality testing. Includes lined pages for recording thoughts and observations and blank pages for creating sketches. Also features a checklist of common aquatic invertebrates. Acorn Naturalists

Curriculum Connections

Assessing Toxic Risk leads students in conducting environmental research on vital questions while learning the basics of toxicology and the use of simple and inexpensive bioassays to assess the relative toxicity of different concentrations and different contaminants on daphnia, lettuce, or other plants or animals in the lab. Trautman, Nancy M., et al. (2001). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press. Teacher & student editions available.

Healthy Water, Healthy People: Water Quality Educators Guide contains 25 activities that link water quality topics to real-life experiences and allows students to explore the various aspects of stream monitoring and what contributes to a “healthy” stream. The Watercourse. (2003). Bozeman, MT: Project WET.

Protecting Our Watersheds Curriculum is part of Earth Force’s Michigan Civics Initiative, which supports the infusion of civics-based service-learning programs into school districts in Michigan. Middle school students use water quality investigations to address a local issue and then take action in their community to address the concern. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

The Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide 2.0 contains 64 water education activities for K-12 students described on 590 pages. Activities are organized into seven broad categories about water including its unique physical and chemical characteristics, how it is how it integrates all earth systems, its limited availability, water resources management, and social and cultural values. Helpful cross reference and planning charts help educators to quickly find the “right” activity for an age group, setting, concept, etc. In addition, WET educators may access
a new companion Portal that contains searchable databases, discussion groups, state education correlations, and so much more. The Guide can only be obtained by attending a workshop (contact the Michigan Project essential for all life, WET coordinator for information). Project WET Foundation (2011) Bozeman, MT.
Streamkeeper’s Field Guide provides background information on how streams and their surrounding watershed function, detailed methods on watershed inventory and stream monitoring for volunteers, tips on presenting data, and stories about Streamkeepers putting watershed inventory and stream monitoring information to use in
the protection and restoration of our nation’s streams. Murdoch, Tom, and Martha Cheo, with Kate O’Laughlin. (1999). Everett, WA: Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.

Watershed Dynamics extend your students’ investigations into local water quality and land use issues, and is ideal for teaching biological and ecological concepts and research techniques. It also shows how the interplay between scientific data and human judgment can shape public policy decisions on zoning, flood control, and agricultural practices. Includes classroom-ready materials. Trautmann, Nancy. (2004). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press. Teacher & student editions available.