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Storm Drain Detectives look at Mokelumne River health

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Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:07 am, Fri May 11, 2012.

True or false: It's OK to use a hose to rinse off your driveway.

Grass clippings are natural and pose no harm to rivers.

If a little fertilizer is good, more is better.

Lodi residents learned Thursday that all of these statements are false. Runoff from the driveway, pollutants from excess fertilizer and even lawn clippings are harmful to waterways.

About 30 people gathered in the Lodi Public Library for a meeting of the Lower Mokelumne Stewardship committee.

The purpose of the meeting was to offer simple, approachable solutions for Lodi residents to help the Mokelumne watershed. The audience recieved a copy of "The Lower Mokelumne River Watershed User's Guide," a booklet full of tips, myths and facts about how everyday life can affect the health of the river.

"These tips are for a homeowner coming home after a long day of work. They can still do their part to enhance the community," said Matt Bronson, a representative from the San Joaquin County Resource Conservation District.

In the guide are three assessments for residents to evaluate their current methods for dealing with waste, yard and garden care and selection of fertilizers and pesticides.

But how do we know that Lodi homes are affecting the river?

Enter the Storm Drain Detectives.

Each year, a team of high school students enrolled in honors biology are trained to test the Mokelumne River at nine of its 16 outfall points.

Ten students from Lodi High School presented their findings at Thursday's meeting.

"There's stuff out there we need to clean up," said Katelyn Kolb, 15, from Lodi High School.

Some of the mess is obvious. The students found trash floating in small pools along the riverbanks.

Other problems are more elusive. Students tested river water for pH balance, temperature, distilled oxygen levels and even turbidity, which is the amount of particles in the water blocking sunlight.

"As water goes into the storm drains, it picks up litter. It picks up pesticides and it goes into the river. That affects the pH, the temperature and all of the aquatic life," said Ryan Ozminkowski, 15, from Lodi High School.

It was exciting for the students to learn to use professional water-testing equipment.

"These aren't the typical things you'd use in a lab," said Ozminkwoski, gesturing to a table full of thermometers, monitors and testing equipment. "These have a real-life application."

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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