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Monday, April 4, 2011

[Earth Day Edition] ‘Citizen Scientist’ Volunteers Sought for April 23 UNO Elkhorn River Study

Waterway just down the road
My husband and I moved out to Elkhorn, Ne., about a year and half ago. Brian and I grew up and lived most of our lives in the same zip code in Benson, an area in Omaha, Ne. We now live on the edge of town -- only a block away from a farm with a steer and two horses. It has been an adjustment from the hustle and bustle of Midtown Omaha to the Boonie's but we love it. When I saw this recent call for volunteers to help collect data on the waterway just down the road we both jumped at the chance. So, if any other population-we™ readers reside in Elkhorn and want to join in the spirit of Earth Day read on.

Students and anyone with an interest in science can volunteer to participate in a University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) water research experiment on the Elkhorn River Basin for the “What’s In Your Watershed?” Test Day this month.

On Saturday, April 23, about 150 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds in Nebraska will become “citizen scientists” and collect small samples of water from the Elkhorn River. With an easy-to-use kit – resembling an at-home pregnancy test – provided by UNO, volunteers will test the level of atrazine in the river water and then visit a UNO webpage to enter their data.

In Omaha, volunteers can collect water at the Elkhorn River Research Station near 245th and Q Streets.

The Elkhorn River
Outside Omaha, volunteers can collect water along the Elkhorn River watershed as far west as O’Neill. A detailed map of the Elkhorn River watershed boundary is available online at Volunteers can also view a video demonstration at the webpage.

No previous research or experiment experience is necessary to participate.

The research project is organized by Alan Kolok in the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory, housed in UNO’s Department of Biology.

“The data that we will gather from the experiment on April 23 will be used to advance the knowledge of how atrazine is transported in the environment,” Kolok said. “Although atrazine has been used for nearly 50 years, never before has anyone attempted to gather pesticide data across an entire watershed.”

Atrazine is the most commonly applied herbicide in the U.S., with more than 75 million pounds used annually across the country. Being a largely agricultural state, Nebraska farmers apply thousands of tons of the herbicide each year to their fields.

Although atrazine can increase crop yields, large amounts often escape through rainwater runoff and enter waterways. Once in the water, atrazine is taken up by aquatic life and can have a negative effect on reproductive organs.

“The phenomenon is commonly known as endocrine disruption,” Kolok said. “The Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory has been researching endocrine disruption in the Elkhorn River for the past several years; and now we’d like the public’s help, as citizen scientists, to perform a one-day, large-scale inventory of atrazine in the basin.”

To volunteer as a citizen scientist on April 23, contact Research Assistant Gwen Ryskamp at (402) 554.3302 or

“We chose April 23 to coincide with the opening of our Elkhorn River Research Station as well as get the first bits of runoff from planting season,” Ryskamp said. “We're hoping for some residual runoff from last year's season and to find out if Atrazine remains in the environment over the course of a year.”

My grandfather was a farmer and for his time was very diligent when using pesticides. If he were still farming today his methods might be deemed organic. A man who loved science, I know he'd be intrigued with this project. So, we dedicate this Earth Day post in memory of Grandpa Bohan.

In celebration of the 41st anniversary of Earth Day population-we™ staffers will celebrate our love for planet earth with green posts the entire month of April! Thanks for reading our first Earth Day post. 
- population-we blog post by Becky Bohan Brown
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