Stream Health Evaluation Program

Since 2006, FMR has coordinated the successful Stream Health Evaluation Program (SHEP) in the Rice Creek Watershed District.

Modeled after our 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.

SHEP volunteers

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

Stream Health Evaluation Program volunteers measure and record streamflow.

Each season, 30 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.

Volunteers receive extensive training 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? "SHEPers" typically score 90-99% accuracy! Our well-trained and dedicated volunteers produce reliable data that can be used to inform water resource management decisions throughout the watershed. 

[Photo: Stream Health Evaluation Program volunteers group photo

SHEP volunteers consistently produce highly accurate data that proves useful for watershed management decisions. 

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 overall, contact FMRs water program director Laura Mann Hill at 651-222-2193 x16 or lhill@fmr.org.

If you're interested in participating, check out the SHEP volunteering page.

Documents and reports

Support documents and monitoring sites
Final reports