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What the Creek Watch Monitors

The Creek Watch Program monitors a number of parameters at the stream each month, detailing observations of the stream channel, banks, and surrounding habitat. Some Creek Watch teams additionally carry out in-stream water quality testing with chemistry kits.

Below are lists delineating what it is the Creek Watch team evaluates each month, and what you can hope to find in their data.

Water clarity:

Decreased water clarity can indicate sediment or particles entering into the stream from run off or erosion, a frequent problem in the Wissahickon Watershed. Suspended particles or sediment in the water can diminish water quality for stream organisms, and can deflect sunlight from reaching aquatic plants. It can also raise the temperature of the stream, absorbing sunlight.

Surface coating:

Surface coatings can be from a natural process or may indicate a problem in the stream. Creek Watchers report incidences of bubbles, oily coatings, or surface scum at their stream site.


The odor of the stream can indicate natural ecological conditions or a problem in the stream. Creek Watchers report incidences of sewage, sulfur, chemical, or gas/petroleum odors at their stream sites.

Streambed color:

The streambed color can indicate biological or chemical functions at the site.

Percent shade:

Shade helps to keep the temperature of the stream low and slow the growth of algae, important for the survival of aquatic animals. Canopy cover also supplies the stream with leaf litter in the fall, an important source of food and habitat for the aquatic system.

Algae cover:

Some algae growth is important to maintaining a stable ecosystem. However, over abundance of algae can reduce dissolved oxygen concentrations for aquatic animals and decrease their survival. The Wissahickon Creek can have major algae problems due to nutrient runoff from animal waste, fertilizers, etc.


Stream flow varies with the seasons and storm events. Groundwater inputs to the Wissahickon Creek are fairly minimal, so much of the flow in the creek is from wastewater treatment facilities and from stormwater runoff. The amount of water in the stream can influence temperature, dissolved oxygen, and many other parameters.

Leaf packs:

Leaf packs are important for some aquatic insects, known as shredders. Shedders are absent from the Wissahickon Creek and the WVWA suspects this is due to a missing food source. When there is more canopy cover, more leaf litter finds its way into the stream.

Aquatic vegetation:

Aquatic vegetation is vegetation growing in the streambed. The WVWA has not seen very much aquatic vegetation in the watershed and is interested in cataloguing any aquatic vegetation observed by Creek Watchers.


Erosion is a known impairment in the Wissahickon and is a large concern for the WVWA. Erosion occurs when large amounts of water weather and carve out a stream bank, carrying soil, rocks and debris downstream. Erosion can create unstable bank conditions and can bring down riparian trees. The sediment carried away from eroding stream banks eventually settles on the streambed surface, sometimes creating an island or point bar. This sediment seals in and flattens out valuable habitat in the rocks and crevices of the streambed.

Riparian vegetation:

A riparian corridor is the land the boarders the creek (zone of land between the water and 50 feet into the land). Stable riparian vegetation can reduce impacts from stormwater in an urban/suburban landscape by slowing down high velocity stormwater, filtering out pollutants, and providing shade and habitat to the stream corridor.

Animal observations:

The WVWA is interested in the animals that are using the stream and stream bank habitat. Creek Watchers report their observations of mammals, birds, insects, plants, etc. at the stream on a monthly basis.

Creek Watcher Wading Team: Water Quality Parameters

  Explanation Influenced by Importance
Temperature Temperature of the water in the stream. Determined using the thermometer Sunlight



Depth of the stream

Instances of standing water

Temperature influences the rate of chemical and biological processes, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, and the animals that can live in the water. For instance, coldwater fish cannot survive in streams with warm waters.
Phosphorus Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant and animal growth. Natural


Applied fertilizers

Run off

Phosphorus is typically the limiting factor for algae growth in freshwater systems. An overabundance of algae can have detrimental impacts on aquatic life. In a phosphorus-limited system, one additional gram of phosphorus could allow 100 grams of new algae growth.
Nitrogen Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant and animal growth. Natural


Applied fertilizers

Run off

Nitrogen is one of two limiting factors for algae growth in aquatic systems. Nitrogen is typically limiting in marine systems, where the water from the Wissahickon will end up.
Chloride Salt ions in the water. Determined by titration kit. Natural (geology, groundwater input)


Run off of road salts in winter

Water softener discharge or sewage contamination

High chloride concentrations in fresh water systems can disrupt osmoregulation of plants and animals – a biological process maintaining the proper balance of salts in cells and body fluid.