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Overland Park studies insects to determine quality of streams

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Posted at 6:18 AM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 07:31:34-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Ian Fannin-Hughes can’t be afraid of insects for his job as Overland Park, Kansas’ water quality specialists.

A typical summer day on the job requires searching for (and then holding) insects and other invertebrates living within the city’s streams and creeks.

“This is a riffle beetle,” Fannin-Hughes said while inspecting a haul along Wolf Creek in southern Overland Park. “They’re really sensitive. They don’t like any kind of pollution, they don’t tolerate low oxygen levels.”

Every summer for the past five years, Fannin-Hughes has ventured out to different points along streams to examine the variety of invertebrates living in the water.

He said Overland Park is the only city in the Kansas City metropolitan area proactively studying insects on a routine basis.

“They tell us how livable is this stream,” the water quality specialist pointed out. “By how many species we find, that tells us all the hierarchy of the food web is here. We have predators, we have prey, we have scavengers, and that tells us it’s really good water quality. If we don’t find that, we know we have a problem and we gotta find a solution.”

Along with the biological information, Fannin-Hughes also conducts a visual inspection of creek banks and sediment buildup, and he tests water samples to detect ammonia, fluoride and other chemicals in the stream.

Those chemical tests led two water quality interns to discover a sewage leak in Tomahawk Creek this summer, which Johnson County, Kansas, subsequently repaired.

“We dropped everything, went and investigated that and our interns went and found the source of that wastewater leak and helped mitigate the impacts that had,” Fannin-Hughes explained.

He said gathering data will lead to more long-term benefits. He can compare information from creeks year-to-year to determine if the city’s using too much road salt, if construction is dumping too much sediment or stormwater into the creeks or if farmers are using too much fertilizer.

Fannin-Hughes pointed out the creeks are for recreational use in Overland Park, they’re not a drinking source. However, the water eventually connects to the Missouri River and then the Mississippi River where others use it as a drinking source.

Kansas law requires municipalities to monitor the health of their streams and ensure the water is just as healthy when it flows out of a municipality as when it enters.

“What we do here greatly impacts our downstream neighbors,” Fannin-Hughes said.

So he’ll continue to look for insects under the surface.