Improving the Water Quality of Cub Creek: Homestead National Monument Water Quality Partnership

Science Center Objects

Homestead National Monument of America, (HOME) a National Park Service (NPS) site which commemorates the impacts of the Homestead Act of 1862 is located on the site of one of the first homestead claims filed in the United States of America, a site that was chosen by Daniel Freeman because of the clean abundant water that Cub Creek provided for his family and livestock. The USGS Nebraska Water Science Center is providing technical assistance to NPS with a focus on a segment of Cub Creek that flows through the Homestead National Monument. We will be collecting and analyzing water-quality data, developing educational displays, and focusing on outreach. 

Homestead National Monument of America, (HOME) a National Park Service (NPS) site which commemorates the impacts of the Homestead Act of 1862 is located on the site of one of the first homestead claims filed in the United States of America, a site that was chosen by Daniel Freeman because of the clean abundant water that Cub Creek provided for his family and livestock. Cub creek extends from about 1 mile downstream of HOME to 34 miles upstream from HOME. Fairly typical of the agricultural intensity of southeast Nebraska, land cover of Cub Creek watershed consists of about 68 percent cultivated cropland (mainly corn and soybeans), 22 percent pasture or hay, and only 0.5 percent urban/suburban development. In addition to its cropland and pasture, Cub Creek watershed is also home to concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs) that are large enough (> 500 head) to have registered with Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and other smaller animal-feeding operations (AFOs).

Educational outreach at Cub Creek, Nebr.
USGS scientists showing National Park Service student volunteers discharge measurement and water-quality sampling techniques at Cub Creek, Nebr.

Through an educational-outreach program partnering with middle-schoolers at nearby Beatrice, Nebr., HOME staff members have assisted community volunteers in collecting stream water samples on about a monthly frequency during the school year since 2002. The students are instructed and assisted by volunteers from the Master Ranger Corps and staff to monitor physical and chemical parameters of the creek. This intergenerational learning opportunity has been planting the seed of conservation in their minds, by showing them that their actions can impact the water quality of Cub Creek. It is important that this historical data is validated so that results from their efforts can be used to document water-quality issues and to show the students that what they are doing does matter and potentially is affecting positive actions.

We are providing technical assistance with a focus on a segment of Cub Creek that flows through the Homestead National Monument. We will be collecting and analyzing data, developing educational displays, and focusing on outreach. In particular, we want to

  1. educate park visitors and neighbors about water quality issues in Cub Creek and similar streams, and provide them information on how to improve the water quality of these streams;
  2. determine if past volunteer monitoring data is defensible; and
  3. creatively engage the park neighbors and visitors through social media and other digital media.
Teaching student volunteers about water quality at Cub Creek, Nebr.
USGS scientists providing a short demonstration to National Park Service student volunteers at Cub Creek, Nebr.

Water-Quality Monitoring

We deployed a water-quality sonde from April through August in Cub Creek to measure dissolved oxygen, water temperature, turbidity, and specific conductance. We also collected nutrient and bacteria samples once a month, corresponding to volunteer monitoring sampling events. When the sonde was deployed, we sampled once every two weeks. Constituents we collected are:

  • nitrogen as ammonia,
  • nitrogen as ammonia plus organic (Kjeldahl) nitrogen,
  • nitrogen as nitrite,
  • nitrogen as nitrate plus nitrite,
  • orthophosphate,
  • total phosphorous, and
  • Escherichia coli.

Volunteer Monitoring Analysis

USGS scientists provide a short demonstration of water-quality sampling methods and talk about the status and any improvements in water quality in Cub Creek to HOME student volunteers. After the presentation, volunteers collect their customary nutrient and E.coli samples and USGS personnel collect a replicate sample following USGS standard methods.