River Action League brings community together to monitor water quality

September 20, 2011

By Steven Johnson ‘13

The River Action League is bringing Bradley students and faculty together with people in central Illinois communities to monitor water quality along the Illinois River.

The group came to fruition when Bradley University received a grant of $5,500 from Illinois American Water’s 2011 Environmental Grant Program to create a project to engage community members in monitoring water quality along the Illinois River and its tributaries.

Dr. Kelly McConnaughay, biology professor and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, served as a coordinator for the league’s kickoff event which took place as part of a professional development retreat for K-12 teachers on Aug. 26 at Wildlife Prairie State Park.

“One of the activities at the retreat challenged the teachers to use our ‘Citizens Science Kits’ to investigate water quality within the park,” said McConnaughay.  The teachers collected water sampled and evaluated a number of water quality characteristics.  What made the test-drive of our water quality kits even more authentic is that the data collection activity was lead not by the scientists who designed the kits and collection protocols, but by recent graduates of our master’s program in Elementary Math, Science and Technology Education program (MST), who are K-12 teachers themselves.”

“The kits were very thorough, which allowed for the project to be completed quickly,” said Leslie Stafford, one of the Bradley University MST graduates who led the activity. “Teachers were excited about getting their students involved.”

Kits can be checked out at Bradley University or one of the involved partners. “You can take the kit away with your church group, Boy Scout troop or whatever group is interested in doing this,” McConnaughay said. “They can then sample water along the Illinois River or anyplace in the watershed.”

A truly collaborative program, Bradley has joined forces with governmental bodies in the region to ensure the effort is effective and efficient.

“We are in collaboration with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission,” said McConnaughay. “This is responsible for environmental management and making sure all the developmental projects here don’t create chaos within the environment.”

The River Action League can bring numerous possibilities and exciting moments to the people involved. The event was well received and Hilarie Clevenger, another Bradley MST graduate also involved in the kickoff activity, spoke very highly of it.

“It was a great success,” Clevenger said. “The participants were very eager to use the kits and explore the lake. They had very positive feedback when we were done.”