March is the perfect time to break into water quality monitoring. Spring is in the air, the weather’s getting milder, and workshops are popping up like mushrooms . . . well-planned, educational mushrooms that give you food and free equipment.
Other than a solid excuse to get outdoors, monitoring streams is a rewarding act of citizen science. We’ve compiled some reasons to get involved. If you think of more, please leave us a comment at the bottom of the page!
1. For a few magic hours, you get to be a SCIENTIST.
Hey, life takes us on lots of turns. Maybe you’re an artist who enjoys seeing the seasons change. Maybe you’re an investment banker who had a blast as a kid playing with science kits. Maybe water quality monitoring is your job, but you love your job, so you just want to do more of it.
If you give Stream Team one or two weekends of your time, we will make you all into scientists. You will learn about macroinvertebrates (all the little bugs that call your favorite stream “home”), hydrology (the movement of water), water chemistry (how to identify pollutants), and physical monitoring (assessing the plants and pavement around your site). You can spread the knowledge (show off) to friends and family when you monitor, or even just as you hang out on a sandbar during your next float trip. But that’s not all…
2. You help screen for pollution problems.
The good folks at the Department of Natural Resources look over your data for immediate problems that need clarification or an environmental red flag that says they should send Regional Office staff to your stream right away. Usually the volunteer is contacted first to be sure that they are confident of their reading before contacting the Regional Office, and then may be put in touch with Regional Office staff in person if there are further questions.
3. You help in assessment.
When Level 2 and 3 data meet certain requirements (over the previous 4 years, at least 3 macro data sheets and 5 water chemistry sheets were submitted at a given site), then it is used for screening for the assessment process in the 305(b) report and 303(d) list. The data are reviewed, and then professional staff visit areas where it appears there may be an impairment. If the volunteer data does not indicate any impairment, then professional time and resources may be directed toward other streams.
CSI data are used as agency data. It is entered into the same database that the professional database is entered into and reported to EPA through the node that exists with the WQA database. CSI projects use EPA-approved methods such as chains of custody and sampling plans, and are professionally supervised.
4. Baseline data are so so so important!
Without baseline data, it’s hard to make conservation decisions, and it’s hard to get baseline data because resources are scarce. That’s where you come in.
Every time you go monitor, you take a snapshot on the health of your stream in that time and place. Over time, that’s a pretty good testament to its health overall. This is important for so many reasons. Maybe your local government is considering rezoning agricultural land to residential or industrial properties. Your data could show changes before and after development or could help make the case for added protection during construction. Maybe someday your stream will be considered for special environmental protection. Your data could help indicate that it’s a high-quality stream.
For one example of how volunteer water quality monitoring data is used, check out MSTWC’s “State of Missouri’s Streams” report. Compiled in 2013, it summarizes more than ten years of VWQM data.
5. There are many opportunities to get involved!
After attending a VWQM workshop, you’re ready to monitor as much as you’d like. You can go it “Environmental Justice League” style and join a special monitoring project such as Ozarks Water Watchers, or if “Lone Ranger” is more your pace, you can choose a site and monitor as your own Stream Team.
6. All the cool kids are doing it.
Nearly 6,000 citizens have participated in a water quality monitoring workshop since Stream Team started its Volunteer Water Quality Program in 1993. In 2013 alone (a drought year, mind you), 556 individuals as well as 30 student/youth groups went on 1,124 monitoring trips.
7. You can earn a bonus Anniversary Passport stamp!
If you monitored a stream or attended a VWQM workshop this month, submit an Activity Report to get credit on your passport.
Your turn: Tell us about your experience in VWQM. What have you learned or accomplished through monitoring? What advice would you give to newbies? What other things would you like to see from the program in the next 25 years? Leave us comments below!