TYLER, Texas — Keeping our East Texas lakes and rivers clean is important for the wildlife that live in these waterways. Those very same animals can also show us how the health of those waters affects the people who live around them.

That is why UT Tyler Biology Chair Dr. Lance Williams and his team of researchers are collecting wildlife in freshwater areas around Tyler.

"We were sampling Black Fork Creek and the Neches River above Lake Palestine trying to assess water quality using aquatic life using the fish," Williams said. "The invertebrates that live in the river, we can look at their community composition, and that tells us something about the water quality."

These samples give an overarching picture of the health involving the ecosystem in the area.

"The idea is to sample in all the different types of habitats that are there," Williams said. "So you can get a good picture of the community. There are certain species that are more sensitive than others."

"If there is a lot of more rare species, more intolerant species found in the waters then we can infer that the water quality is at least better than other sites," graduate student Danielle Joeger said.

Williams and his wife Marsha, who is also a professor at UT Tyler, and their team of students take the samples of fish, insects, and other aquatic life back to their lab to see how East Texas waters have been treating their inhabitants.

"Sometimes when you have pollution, the fish will be diseased and they'll get lesions and things like that," Williams said. "So we'll look for anomalies in the fish." 

Recent sewage spills in Black Fork Creek give this work an urgent purpose.

"There is a high count of E. coli bacteria within these waters and we attribute that to the sewage spills that Tyler has had, since they run directly from Tyler into black fort Creek down into like Palestine," graduate student Samantha Rowe said.

Williams explains these smaller waterways have a large impact on larger bodies of water such as Lake Palestine.

"If you put a drug in your arm, it's going to go to your brain, it's going to affect your heart. Same thing happens in water," Williams said.

These waters are not only a habitat for this wildlife but an important part of the entire East Texas community. Everyone uses this water.

"You have to think about raccoons, deer, anything that lives in the woods are using these as drinking water," Rowe said. "These are the sites that your kids might be drinking water out of while they're swimming."

"You want the rivers that you swim in, the lakes that you swim in, your drinking water to not have sources of pollution," Williams said.

Williams says the initial findings from Friday's research were positive, but they must confirm with lab analysis.