Conducting a Watershed Snapshot of Blockhouse Creek

Keywords: watershed, stream order, pH, D.O., nitrate, sulfates, phosphorus, iron, alkalinity, gradient, aquatic, riparian; Lesson Plan Grade Level: tenth through twelfth grade; Total Time Required for Lesson: visual surveys should take about 20-30 minutes per site including the collection of water samples. samples will take about 60 minutes per site to test, but groups can divide this work up; Setting: six sampling sites on Blockhouse Creek

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will learn specific skills in assessing water quality from a holistic approach.
  • Students will gain an overview of a local watershed.
  • Students will assess the health of a local watershed.
  • Students will identify problems in the local watershed and suggest remediation.

Materials Needed

  • chemistry water test kits for each parameter tested or a lab capable of testing each
  • parameter
  • thermometer
  • topographic maps of the watershed
  • data sheets
  • clip boards
  • pens/pencils
  • pH meter
  • D.O. meter

State Standards Addressed: E & E Standards: Watersheds and Wetlands (4.1.10A, B, C, 4.1.12A, C)

Teaching Model: Experiential Teaching Model

Subjects Covered: biology, physical science, chemistry 

Topics: water chemistry, topography, geomorphology, stream ecology, land use


The students will need to read all necessary background material to lay the groundwork for this lesson. Watershed snapshot is a statewide initiative to engage the public in watershed awareness activities. This is done on a yearly basis and it is designed to promote the importance of watersheds and to gather baseline data on various watersheds throughout the state. The PA DEP provides the forms and support for volunteer groups and educators to conduct watershed surveys. The forms can be accessed from the PA DEP Web site. The survey requires the students to do basic assessments in various disciplines at the stream site. The above W eb site will provide all the necessary background and support information needed to complete this activity successfully.

Doing the Activity

  1. The students will need to breakup into groups of three or four.
  2. One person will be the recorder and will need the data sheets, a clip board, and a pencil/pen.
  3. The groups will form a consensus as to the best answer to the questions on the survey.
  4. One of the students will record the temperature.
  5. One student from each group will take a water sample at each site to be taken bake to the lab for analysis of each parameter using the DR4000 spectrophotometer. (See specific directions for each test on the HACH Web site .)
  6. The group will use the appropriate topographic map to establish the stream order.
  7. One student will take the pH and D.O. using the appropriate meters for each test. Directions for each meter are enclosed in each case.
  8. One person representing all the groups will act as the photographer to take selected pictures to be included with the report.
  9. Students will then summit their reports to PA DEP-Watershed Management, P.O. Box 8555, Harrisburg PA 17105


The students will be assessed based on the accuracy and completeness of their watershed snapshot survey. All survey will be graded for accuracy and completeness and the corrected by the students before they are sent to Harrisburg.


This will be an ongoing project that will be conducted year after year to help the state collect baseline data on various watershed and create awareness of watershed issues among our students. The only expensive part of this activity is the water chemistry. Relatively inexpensive kits can be purchased from a chemical supply house or your could use a more expensive but more accurate photospectrometer for the chemical analysis.


APHA (1992). Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater . 18th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Public Health Association.

HACH Company Web

Kegley, S., and J. Andrews (1998). The Chemistry of Water. Sausalito, Calif.: University Science Books.

Jacobson. C. (1991). Water, Water Everywhere . Loveland, Colo.: HACH Company.

Murdoch, T., and M. Cheo (2001). Stream Keeper's Field Guide. Everett, Wash.: Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.

PA DEP Web site

USEPA (1997). V olunteer Stream Monitoring: A Methods Manual . Washington, D.C.: Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds.


Jere White, Liberty Junior Senior High School