Doctors of a sort are wading into Kansas' rivers and streams and getting them to open their mouths and say "ah."
Teams from Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism have donned hip waders and are using nets and electric charges to evaluate the health of fish, insects, mussels and bivalves that inhabit the water and shores along the banks, said Mark Van Scoyoc, KDWPT stream surveyor and assessment coordinator.
Team members use electricity to cause an electric current that temporarily stuns the fish but does not hurt them. Each species is counted and a small number of voucher specimens are taken and preserved for future comparison.
All these animals are an excellent indicator of water quality. What is not found is just as important because missing animals can also indicate water quality. Surveyors like to see rare fish, a positive sign for endangered species and good river health.
"Our main focus is on the native species in our streams and rivers," Van Scoyoc said. "Our job as stream biologists is to understand trends in native species and fix any problems. Our ultimate goal is to get them (endangered species) off the list."
Surveying the rivers reveals population numbers, location of species and helps determine what species need to be placed on the endangered list, if an endangered species needs to remain on the list or can be removed from the list.
Survey results also help KDWPT develop plans to correct problems and ensure a suitable environment for endangered and non-endangered species.
Understanding the health of the animals that inhabit Kansas' rivers and streams helps to understand the health of the water in the streams. Fish and mussels are a direct indicator of the water used for drinking, irrigation and fishing.
"What's good for fish and mussels in their streams is good for us as well," Van Scoyoc said.
Survey areas change from year to year. This year the biologists are focusing on Saline County and the Smoky Hill River Basin.
Also under close watch this year and next is the Byron Walker Wildlife Area. Several miles of highway construction are going on through the area and KDWPT biologists are keeping a watchful eye for any changes that happen during the construction period.
Surveys were conducted before construction began and more will be conducted during construction on July 15 and July 22 with more scheduled during the year and more after construction is complete.
Some species of interest are the Arkansas darter and the silver chub, both endangered species.
The streams are divided into sections from 50 meters to 150 meters long and from bank to bank.
The teams look at riffles runs and pool. A riffle is a stream bubbling over a shallow bunch of rocks. In bigger streams it produces white water.
A run is a long portion of the river with few rocks and water running straight through.
Pools are calm portions of a river that usually form in a river bend.
These three elements determine how the water flows thorough a section of stream and how sediment accumulates. If sediment is too thick, it can kill some species.
It takes a lot of money to remove sediment but it is necessary sometimes to preserve a species.
While KDWPT focuses on the animals, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment monitors the water quality of streams and rivers. While the two departments overlap, they do have different agendas, Van Scoyoc said.