Bugs: Providing a Litmus Test for Lake Water Quality

Smith Mountain Lake Association and Save our Streams to offer Stream Monitor Orientation

Insects serve as a primary source of food for most species of birds, and freshwater fish live mostly off our insect population.  In fact, most of our mayflies, dragonflies, and midges, among other varieties, never reach adulthood, instead being eaten by the freshwater fish that bring so many anglers to our area. Much like the legendary canaries in the coal mine, insects serve as an early warning system and can tell us a lot about how well our lake stacks up against others.  When pollution tolerant insect varieties predominate, the conditions for fish and the humans who catch and eat them are less than favorable. The water incoming from this stream can negatively affect our lake.  When pollution intolerant varieties thrive, we can be confident that this stream water will contribute to a safe and healthful lake environment. 

One of the elements of the Smith Mountain Lake Association’s (SMLA) mission is to protect the water of Smith Mountain Lake (SML). The volunteers for Save our Streams (SOS), sponsored nationally by the Izaak Walton League and locally by the SMLA, and the Blue Ridge and Foothills and Lakes Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists, help monitor the health of SML by counting insects.  SOS fields more than a dozen teams monitoring 18 streams that flow into our lake in Bedford and Franklin Counties.  Testing each stream once in the spring and once in the fall, they merge their bug counts into the data stream maintained by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.  The ratings produced by DEQ are the most reliable measures of water quality in the Old Dominion.  Our volunteers, however, are not all scientists by training.  Our members include active and retired teachers, engineers, farmers, business people, and writers, among other things.  All of them love the lake and want to keep it one of Virginia’s most treasured natural sites.  

We need additional monitors! If you are a resident of the SML area and would like to help protect our water, you can contribute by counting bugs. To become a certified monitor, volunteers complete a morning of classroom orientation followed by practice in the field, generally by working with a team on a stream near their home.  Training and necessary equipment are provided free of charge by SMLA.  While membership in SMLA is not required, we always encourage you to join our team effort to be stewards of the lake. The next orientation session will be held at a Moneta location (to be named at a later date) on Saturday, March 1st, beginning at 9 a.m.  Interested participants should register by calling the SMLA office at 540-719-0690 or by contacting SOS at smlstreams@gmail.com.

Membership and charitable donations support the good work of SMLA so we need your help to continue our mission to protect the water of Smith Mountain Lake. Please visit our website for more information on the work that SMLA performs or how you can support our continued efforts at www.smlassociation.org. It is our best and most efficient insurance for maintaining our property values and preserving our treasure – The Jewel of the Blue Ridge.