Stream Health Evaluation Program

Since 2006, FMR has coordinated the Stream Health Evaluation Program (SHEP) in the Rice Creek Watershed District. Now in our 9th year, SHEP is a successful volunteer stream monitoring program in Minnesota.

Modeled after our successful Wetland Health Evaluation Program (WHEP), SHEP was designed in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Waters. SHEP uses trained volunteers to evaluate the biological health of streams by sampling benthic macroinvertebrates — small stream-dwelling bugs.

Why bugs? In general, benthic macroinvertebrates (benthic: “bottom dwelling [living below the water surface on the substrate]”; macro: “visible to the naked eye”; invertebrate: “animal lacking a backbone”) are a collection of insects and crustaceans such as stoneflies, midges, snails, and crayfish. Interestingly enough, these organisms are commonly monitored to help us evaluate the water quality of our surface waters. Simply stated, they serve as tiny, living water quality indicators.

Macroinvertebrates serve as good indicators of overall stream health for several reasons:

  • They are relatively common and easy to collect.
  • They occupy several trophic levels within a lake or stream.
  • Some of them have long life cycles of a year or more and are exposed to environmental changes throughout their lifespan.
  • They cannot move to avoid poor water quality conditions and are therefore susceptible to pollution over longer periods of time.

In a nutshell, different macroinvertebrates have different reactions to pollution. Some are very tolerant and can live in any water conditions, but others are very sensitive and can only survive in good water quality conditions. As a result, the presence or absence of macroinvertebrates can effectively illustrate the conditions of our local streams, rivers, and lakes.

The SHEP Program

[Photo: Stream Health Evaluation Program volunteers study their findings at the lab.

Back at the lab, Stream Health Evaluation Program volunteers identify and record their stream findings.
Photo: SHEP 2007

Each season, 30 adult volunteers from across the watershed and surrounding communities monitor nine sites along Hardwood Creek, Clearwater Creek, Rice Creek and Locke Lake. Volunteers form three teams led by team leaders who help coordinate SHEP activities.

Program Training

Volunteers receive extensive trainings on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) field and laboratory monitoring protocols. Our Field Training Session and Lab Identification Training Sessions ensure that SHEPers perform scientifically valid sampling that provides useful data for watershed administrators and local communities.

How good is the data? Well, our volunteers typically score accuracy ratings of 90-99% — great results! These results not only show that volunteers can produce reliable, scientifically accurate data, but that the data collected can be used to inform water resource management decisions throughout the watershed! Congratulations to our SHEP volunteers!

Congratulations to our SHEP volunteers!

[Photo: Stream Health Evaluation Program volunteers group photo

2007 SHEP volunteers. Smile and say "“benthic macroinvertebrates!"”
Photo: SHEP 2007

Watershed relationships

As important as it is for SHEPers to produce great data, the program also impacts our community in other positive ways. SHEP brings volunteer monitors together with local officials and decision-makers.

These relationships allow SHEP volunteers to better understand how local decisions impact water quality and stream health, while at the same time reminding local decision makers of the importance of water quality.

To volunteer or learn more

To learn more about SHEP, contact FMR’s watershed program director Trevor Russell at 651-222-2193 x18 or through our web form.

Read more about volunteering for SHEP at our SHEP volunteering page. To volunteer, contact FMR’s Volunteer Coordinator Amy Kilgore with your name, address, e-mail address and day and evening phone numbers at 651-222-2193 x31.

Additional Documents

Support Documents & Monitoring Sites

Final Reports