The Omaha North student pours creek water into a test tube, adds a tablet and shakes it for a couple of minutes. The clear water turns a light blue.
The color change shows that the water’s pH is about 7 — a good number, says Tayla Nathoo, a biology major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Nathoo and other UNO students were out in the field with 25 students from Omaha North to test water samples taken from Papillion Creek. The one-day project was organized by UNO’s Nebraska Watershed Network and the Office of Student Community, Leadership and Service.
“It was pretty fun. I liked it,” said Omaha North student Martel Olivera. “None of us ever really tested water. I’ve never really thought about it.”
Acting as citizen scientists, the students measured seven water quality indicators as a way to diagnose the creek’s health. They tested pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, the herbicide atrazine and E. coli.
Atrazine is applied to fields in the spring to kill weeds in row crops, such as corn and sorghum. Rain can wash it into surface waters. E. coli indicates the presence of fecal matter, from human sewage or animal droppings. Water tainted by E. coli can make people sick.
“What we’re trying to do is take a water quality snapshot of the surface water quality in the Omaha metro area,” said Chris Madden, a UNO student who is an intern with the watershed network.
Papillion Creek runs through the metro area from near Standing Bear Lake south to Bellevue, where it dumps into the Missouri River. It parallels the Big Papio Trail and parts of the Keystone and the Bellevue Loop trails.
Water was tested at five sites along the creek. The sites represented different conditions, ranging from strictly urban, heavy traffic areas to more rural settings surrounded by farms and parks.
So far, the monitoring tests show nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s a very interesting test to find out what’s really in the water,” Omaha North student Dylan White said.