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South Charleston Students Check in on Morris Creek

A group of South Charleston High School students visited Montgomery last week to check in on the health of the nearby Morris Creek. Working with WVU Tech and the Morris Creek Watershed Association, the students collected data for projects in their International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in biology, chemistry and physics.

The Morris Creek watershed, which covers more than seven square miles, is on the mend after suffering contamination from coal mining and landfill activities stemming back to the 1970s. Since 2002, the Morris Creek Watershed Association has engaged in a variety of projects aimed at restoring the watershed and raising awareness about its condition.

Last week’s student visit was the fifth in an annual collaboration between the Association and South Charleston High, which allows students to don their best mud-boots and get to work determining how the watershed, and its aquatic residents, are responding to the cleanup.

Marilyn Tillquist, IB Biology and Human Anatomy teacher at South Charleston High School, said that the data her students collected will show an overall picture of the creek’s health.

“The biology group is testing for dissolved oxygen in the water and the pH level of the stream. They also takes samples at various points along the stream to see which aquatic species are present,” she said.

Tillquist said that certain macroinvertebrate species, such as stoneflies and hellgrammites, are more sensitive to pollution than others, so their presence in a stream is a sign of better quality water. Amphibians like frogs and salamanders are another sign of a healthy aquatic environment.

“Students take the data they find here and use what’s called a biotic index to assign a value to the stream that serves as an indication of the stream’s overall biological health,” she said.

The biology group was one of three examining the health of Morris Creek. The chemistry group measured acid mine drainage output and tested the water for metals, potassium, phosphate, nitrates and ammonia. The physics group measured the creek’s volume and flow rate, which is an indicator of how acid mine drainage is diluted and how flow contributes to erosion.

WVU Tech programs coordinator Dr. Kimberlyn Gray said that, in the past, student data has been combined with watershed association monthly monitoring data to work with the Environmental Protection Agency on funding for pond remediation and other watershed projects.

“It’s exciting for students in that, not only are they doing this project for themselves and gaining this hands-on field experience, the data they collect is being used in actual studies that make a positive impact on the health of Morris Creek,” she said.

For more information on the Morris Creek watershed, visit the association website at