Nipper Wetland Study Update

The Friends’ surface water quality study at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary is ongoing. The Friends are collecting surface water chemistry data and information on water levels and flow into and out of the wetlands to quantify the nutrient load moving through the wetlands and what this might mean for replicating wetland restoration on other properties.

Besides providing great habitat, wetlands are thought to be beneficial for trapping and controlling nutrients and agricultural-related compounds such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Wetland sediments and wetland vegetation can trap these nutrients and keep them from entering streams, rivers, and lakes at excessive or harmful concentrations.

The five wetlands at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary treat runoff and discharge from adjacent agricultural field drainage tiles and from a 70-acre drainage area. In 2016, the City of Springfield and the Sangamon County Soil and Water Conservation District studied nitrate in surface water throughout the watershed. The Nipper wetlands were included in the study, with surface water samples taken in the first wetland (i.e., southern- most, the pond at the nature center) and at the downstream outlet of the fifth wetland (i.e., northernmost, near Lick Creek). The results indicated a significant reduction of nitrates, apparently due to biofiltration and plant uptake.

To build on this, the Friends of the Sangamon Valley initiated a two-year study of the wetlands’ water quality. Funded by the Nipper Foundation and the Brandt Foundation, the Friends contracted with Northwater Consulting to develop the study, conduct the ongoing monitoring and provide a report interpreting the results. We’ve also been able to purchase lab equipment and supplies. Having our own resources to conduct such studies will help build our capacity to conduct similar studies with other streams and wetlands in our watershed.
Tour of Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary, Loami at Friends of the Sangamon Valley’s Prairie Days, 2017. Photo for FoSV by Steve Warmowski.


The Friends has gathered about six months of data so far. The first three months experienced some glitches with data analysis. As the winter and spring progresses, and we’ve become more consistent with data collection and analysis, we’ll have more information that we can start evaluating.

With continued guidance from Northwater, Charlene Falco (FoSV board member and board secretary) is operating the lab and overseeing the sampling scheduling. We are trying to set up two teams: one for sampling and one for the lab. If you are interested in helping out with sampling or lab work, contact Charlene at 217 525.1410. We have trained three volunteers to assist with field sampling and one other volunteer for lab work. We have a few prospects for additional lab workers, but are interested in finding more.

For water sampling, be prepared to get wet. We wade into the wetlands to get samples, or we might use a canoe. Either way, you’ll get at least a little bit wet. It’s helpful to have waders when the water is colder, but if you don’t have waders or don’t want to get in the water, you can be a data recorder. We usually sample the second or third week of the month, and usually on Saturdays or Sundays. Sampling takes about a couple of hours.

For lab work, previous experience would be great, but it’s not required. Patience, fine motor control, and an ability to follow instructions is a must. Be prepared to work at least four hours at a time, usually on a Saturday or Sunday. We do some of the analyses as soon as possible after sample collection, so lab work usually occurs the third and fourth week of the month. Some analyses are conducted later, within 28 days of sample collection.

It’s an interesting project and we’re learning as we go along. We’re always interested in finding new ways to look at our natural areas and to learn more about them and more about how they interact and contribute to the world around them.

You can help us carry on conservation work like this by becoming a member or by donating. How to on our membership tab.

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