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Water Quality Sampling: A Summary

At the start of every week, HFF’s conservation technician Amber Roseberry and I venture out to collect water samples across the watershed. On Mondays we travel to each sonde site on the Henry’s Fork and the Buffalo River, and on Tuesdays we take samples from two sondes on the Warm River and three on the South Fork of the Snake. We often run into floaters and anglers who are curious to know what we’re doing, so in this blog post I’ll shed some light on our data collection, testing, and what we use it for!

First up, let’s talk about equipment: one of the most important tools for water quality data collection is our sampler. Its nozzle is designed to allow water into the holding container while allowing air to escape through a small hole in the top, while a long handle allows us to reach deep into the flow of each site

Samples collected from our Pine Haven site. The collection mechanism on the end of the sampler.

Each site has a labeled bottle to be filled and brought back to the HFF office for testing. Additionally, we sometimes collect samples which we later send to a lab, where they’re tested for total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment.

Turbidity bottles lined up for Tuesday sampling.

We also bring a small cooler to keep the samples cold, and sometimes a brush to clean the sonde housings while we’re out there!

We take water quality samples at the sites where we have sondes collecting data on stream conditions. When we arrive at a site, we bring the sampler and the necessary bottles down to the edge of the river. The sampler gets a preliminary rinse in the river water, to ensure the sample won’t be mixed with water from the previous area. We lower it into the river, slowly moving down and back up the water column to get water from all depths. Once the sampler is full, we empty it into our bottles. Sometimes, it takes several dips of the sampler to fill all the bottles we have! Collecting water samples at one of our South Fork sites.

Back at the HFF lab, we test each sample using a Hach turbidimeter and record the data as our manual turbidity sample.

We cross-reference this data with the turbidity readings from our sondes; a significant difference between the two means the sonde needs to be recalibrated. Keeping these sondes in ship-shape is very important, as they supply the data for the live river conditions on our website.

Using the turbidimeter to test and record turbidity.

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