Science club students at Ennis High School recently got a chance to participate in an ongoing water quality study of Moore’s Creek.
The study is being coordinated by Montana State University Extension Water Quality Department. However, much of the local work is being done by volunteers organized by Madison Watershed Coordinator, Sunni Heikes-Knapton.
The study is focused on testing for E. coli in Moore’s Creek, which flows out of the foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains and through Ennis on its way to Ennis Lake.
Heikes-Knapton coordinated about 15 local volunteers through the summer to take water samples at 11 different sites along Moore’s Creek. The idea was to do the collections at the same time of day at the different sites and see how the E. coli levels varied along the creek.
The project with the Ennis High School Science Club was to take samples at one spot in the creek every hour through the day and see how the E. coli levels varied.
Mellissa Newman is the science teacher at Ennis High School and the science club advisor. She organized the work with science club students, who took samples from Moore’s Creek where it flows behind the Ennis football field.
The students then brought the samples back to the school where the students fed them a growth solution and then incubated the samples for 24 hours. To test to see if the samples contained E. coli, they were held under a black light. The positive samples glowed under a black light.
Like many of the samples taken in the summer, there was a high rate of E. coli positives in the samples tested by the students, Heikes-Knapton said.
“The results have been variable, but we definitely are seeing some indications that at certain times on certain days, levels can be high,” she said.
E. coli is a bacteria found in the intestinal tracts of warm blooded animals like humans, waterfowl and livestock. It can cause a variety of illnesses in humans, from diarrhea, to urinary tract infections to respiratory illnesses.
E. coli present in waterways can pose a recreational concern, Heikes-Knapton said. This is due to the problems presented if humans recreating in the waterway ingest any of the water.
“That means the state says that if this is water that gets used for recreation than the levels might be something that can cause some problems,” she said.
The E. coli study is ongoing, so any results are just preliminary.
But the real life research opportunity was a benefit for the Ennis High School science club, Newman said.
Students were excited to participate in an ongoing project, she said.
“I think it opened some of the kids’ eyes,” Newman said.