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Monitoring the health of our river systems with SASS

By Tshililo Ramaswiela, Field Technician, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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The A Team - Tshililo (front) with GroundTruth’s Dr Vere Ross-Gillespie

With a view to monitoring the health of the two rivers traversing through the arid lands, I had the opportunity to attend the SASS5 Aquatic Biomonitoring course organised by GroundTruth Water, Wetlands and Environmental Engineers.

The training, which took place in Pietermaritzburg from 27 to 30 March, attracted participants from almost all the provinces across South Africa. Each delegate was afforded an opportunity to share their aquatic experiences and the work they are involved with.

The four-day programme immersed delegates in an intensive series of theoretical, hands-on and philosophical discussions on the status of river systems within the SADC region. The aim of the workshops was to introduce the participants to a variety of simple methods and tools used to measure water quality.

Determining water quality and river health

The training mainly focused on the aquatic biomonitoring technique, or SASS (stream assessment scoring system) exercise. The SASS5 is the simplest and cheapest widely recognised means of determining water quality and river health.

The programme kicked off with an informative presentation on how SASS was established, presented by experienced aquatic scientist Mark Graham of GroundTruth, enlightening the logic behind SASS as a monitoring tool. After a brief introduction to SASS, the delegates were divided into four groups, each equipped with sampling tools.

Mark Graham led the team to the nearby stream to conduct a SASS exercise. During the sampling exercise some of the groups even found a highly sensitive stone fly, which indicates healthy river systems.

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Gone fishing - Tshililo sampling goggas

Team work - identifying macroinvertebrates

The overall course covered Principles and limitations of the methods; Aquatic invertebrates’ adaptation to living in water; and Site selection - characteristics of what constitutes a good aquatic biomonitoring sampling site.

Before departure on the fourth day, all participants had the opportunity to evaluate and comment on the course by means of a scoring system. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The day ended with a presentation on the value that citizen science can have for communities living along the rivers.

The course has provided me with much needed skills for the Arid Lands Node’s future monitoring of the Vaal and Orange Rivers and their tributaries.

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