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Great Lakes Article:

Duluth to study streams

Duluth News Tribune

Duluth wants to know what's running into the city's streams that run into Lake Superior, and a $352,000 federal grant will help find out.

The best part is, we'll all get to watch.

Electronic sensors will monitor four of Duluth's 42 streams for water flow, temperature, salt content and turbidity (how brown the water is with sediment) and transmit the information to a Web site that people can check starting at the end of April --

Researchers also will collect water regularly to study nutrients in the streams -- Amity, Tischer, Chester and Kingsbury.

It's the biggest effort yet to find out and share what's going on with Duluth's streams that have been hard hit by development over the past 100 years. The streams also are pounded by chemicals -- from road salt to lawn fertilizer to oil leaking out of vehicles -- as well as increased flow from ditches and storm sewers. will include maps, reports, community activities and other information that's now scattered and difficult to access. Local scientists will interpret the data so it can be understood by resource managers, developers, teachers, students and local residents.

The idea is that a well-informed public will make better decisions about what kind of things they do to their land, knowing that what they do affects nearby streams. It also might affect how the city takes care of winter streets or where new development is aimed.

"The biggest pollution problem in streams everywhere is suspended sediments from erosion,'' said Rich Axler, water researcher at the University of Minnesota's Natural Resources Research Institute. "The particles deplete the food supply for fish by smothering the bottom of the stream... and by decreasing the oxygen that fish and insect eggs need to survive.''

The problem is made worse when sediments also carry pollutants such as mercury and other toxins. The pollutants may poison aquatic life and pose health risks to people who eat the fish. Sediments also carry phosphorus from lawns and streets, which contributes to excess algae growth in water.

Roads, parking lots and roofs from urban development don't allow water to soak through to the soil, sending rain and snowmelt rushing through storm sewers, ditches and eventually streams in unnaturally heavy flows.

That water also heats up on hot blacktop before heading downstream, raising stream temperatures, sometimes beyond the range for trout.

The sensors will be placed in the streams this spring and transmit data via cell phone back to a computer at the NRRI. Researchers won't release exactly where the censors are to avoid tampering.

Supporters hope the stream monitoring and public access to the information will result in community action.

"We'd love to see people volunteer to monitor and help with cleanup efforts at streams they live near,'' said Cindy Hagley, Minnesota Sea Grant educator, in announcing the program this week. "Hopefully, it will help community members understand water quality issues, and they will take greater interest in the health of their local streams.''

The city has partnered with the NRRI, Minnesota Sea Grant, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District for the program. The Duluth Streams project is paid for with $352,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency's national Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking program.

Public information will be provided at interactive kiosks at the Great Lakes Aquarium and the Lake Superior Zoo, as well as at

Like other cities across the country, Duluth will be required to have a discharge elimination system storm water permit in place by March 2003. One requirement of the permit is for public education and the development of a pollution prevention plan.

"The first step toward protection lies in understanding, and that's why we're proud to support this work,'' Duluth Mayor Gary Doty said.

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