CHECKING THE CHETCO

August 05, 2003 11:00 pm
 (PHOTO BY LARRY ELLIS).
(PHOTO BY LARRY ELLIS).

Shellie Davies,15, and Lizzy Jones,16, waded into the Chetco River at Second Bridge Monday and pulled out a large brown boot they had wedged inside an underwater tree stump 24 hours earlier.

The boot was weighted with rocks and attached to a thermometer.

The girls, laughing and shivering in the clear, cool water, were two of about 15 people participating in the fourth annual Chetco River Check Up.

This year was Kate Davies's third at the check up. She said she likes giving her suburban-raised daughter Shellie a peek into the natural world she explored growing up in Brookings.

Davies flies her family's Wickam Model A airplane down from their home in Auburn, Wash., to visit her parents and take the river's temperature.

"Part of the reason I do this is to give back to Brookings," Davies said. "I think it's important to keep our rivers clean. That's a nice thing to do and if I can have fun with it in Brookings, that's great."

Cindy Myers, water quality monitoring program leader for Watershed Council, started the check up four years ago with Gerry Kocher, Chetco Check Up organizer.

The river's temperature can climb above 70 degrees, Myers said. Since this exceeds the government's definition of normal river temperature (64 degrees), it was mandatory for Watershed Council to complete a water quality management plan, she said.

Myers said if temperatures were to rise any higher than the mid-70s, "You could be seeing dead fish."

The check up was started as a way to look for cooler water and to collect data for the water quality management plan, Myers said.

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With more than a dozen volunteers gathering temperatures simultaneously at different spots along the Chetco, Myers has been able to look at temperature patterns throughout the river.

The water quality management plan was finished last winter, Myers said.

But three years of plunging thermometers into the mixed waters of the Chetco and cleaning up trash along its banks seems to have given birth to a tradition.

Though the event's original purpose has been fulfilled, another one has been discovered.

"This is a wonderful river," Kocher said. "It's important that as many people as possible know about the river and care about the river, so it's here for generations to come."

Myers said the decision was made to involve community volunteers "because we thought it was important for people to gain more awareness about the condition of the river."

Raising awareness will continue, Kocher said. "Next year the event will continue at least as far as cleaning up the river and keeping awareness growing," she said.

Kocher said people will stop her in the street and ask when the next check up is happening. Even if they are not participating, they want to know it is taking place, she said.