STEM@Home: Water Quality

Image courtesy of NASA

State slogans are perennial trivia favorites – can you name Michigan’s most recent motto? Michigan, Land of Enchantment! Nope, that’s New Mexico. Michigan, the Show-Me State? Wrong again – that’s Missouri. Need a hint? Picture a pristine beach, blue waves, a pine-topped island in the distance… and the phrase “Pure Michigan” just leaps to mind.

“Pure Michigan” – more than the incredibly vast Great Lakes, “Pure Michigan” evokes the vast aquatic treasures of our rivers, ponds, wetlands and inland lakes. Beautiful? Certainly. But maybe not as pure as they look on a tourist brochure. And as it turns out, totally pure water would lead to a totally sterile state!

What’s Inside Michigan Water?

100% pure H2O is not the best choice for the plants and animals depending on it. Surface water needs to have lots of dissolved oxygen available for fish and amphibians, nitrates and phosphates provide nutrients for growing plants, and an aquatic biome’s pH dramatically affects which organisms can live there. All of these levels co-exist in a delicate relationship – too much of one can deplete another.

Human activity like boating and farming can change the chemical balance of surface water, with drastic impacts on its ecosystems. Fertilizer run-off from farms loads up streams and wetlands with phosphates, encouraging bacterial growth. Boats can disturb sediment on the bottom of ponds and lakes, suffocating fish and other aquatic organisms. Scientists have a set of quick tests to determine how healthy a water source is for the plants, animals – and people! – that rely on it.

How Pure is Your Michigan?

So how healthy is the water in your Michigan backyard, or neighborhood, or town? You’re in luck! ExploreHope has Water Quality Monitoring test kits available for families to borrow, so you can easily learn about the water quality in our community.

All you need is a 1-liter sample from a local body of water and our Water Quality Monitoring kit to find out how your local water measures up on dissolved oxygen, nitrates, pH, phosphates, temperature and turbidity – all important tests to determine the health of the water. Compare the waters in Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan! Learn about your favorite fishing pond or creek. You could even test the water from that one swampy patch in your neighborhood.

Now, You’re the Water Quality Scientist!

Download our free Water Quality Monitoring test kit guide here! To request to borrow a test kit, please contact and put “Water Quality Monitoring Test Kit” in the subject line. This kit comes with all the chemicals you need to run your tests.

Once you’ve run your tests, check out these great resources from the Michigan Sea Grant and Penn State Extension to help you start interpreting your results. The Macatawa Area Coordinating Council Watershed Project and Water Quality Monitoring volunteers page are also great resources if you’re looking to dive deeper in local water quality issues.

Share your results with us, fellow citizen scientists! Tag and follow ExploreHope on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to never miss a blog post or outreach event. We’d love to hear from you.

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