Extreme winter likely to affect water quality in Rhode Island lakes, ponds, streams

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URI Watershed Watch seeks volunteers to monitor local water bodies


KINGSTON, R.I. – March 4, 2015 – The salt and sand used to treat roadways throughout Rhode Island during this snowy winter are likely to have a negative effect on the water quality in local lakes, ponds and streams this year. That’s the message from the leaders of the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program, which is seeking additional volunteers to monitor water quality in the state from May to October.


“All that salt is going to lead to increased chloride in our waterways, which isn’t good for the critters that live in our streams and lakes,” said Elizabeth Herron, Watershed Watch program coordinator. “It’s increasingly becoming an issue across the entire northern tier of states, and it’s liable to be very evident this year.”


The run-off of sand from roadways poses a different kind of problem. It creates what Herron calls “sand fans” in water bodies, changing the depth of lakes and providing habitat for invasive plants that prefer shallower water. Sand can also smother the eggs of bottom-dwelling creatures.


“The big storm events that we’ve been seeing in recent years are also generating more run-off and more chances for pollutants to get into lakes, streams and Narragansett Bay,” added Herron.


About 350 Watershed Watch volunteers monitor the water quality in 220 lakes, ponds, streams, bays and other water bodies in Rhode Island. They play a critical role in helping scientists understand the effect that weather and land use have on water quality in the state. Analysis of the 27 years of data collected by program volunteers has identified changes in water temperature, nutrients, bacteria, algae and other factors that affect the health of aquatic ecosystems.


“Temperature is a particularly important factor,” said Watershed Watch Director Linda Green. “Things happen faster at higher temperatures, and certain plants and animals can’t survive when it’s too warm. And certain algae, especially the bad ones, love the high temperatures. So being able to document temperature trends may help us predict problems in the future.”


Classroom training for new volunteers will take place at URI’s Kingston campus on March 25 at 6 p.m. and repeated on March 29 at 1 p.m., with field training scheduled on Saturdays in April.


Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds and interests. Each volunteer is matched to a specific location that they will be in charge of monitoring. Once a week on a day of their choice, volunteers monitor for water clarity and temperature. Every two weeks they also monitor algae concentrations and dissolved oxygen. On several designated dates, volunteers collect water samples that are analyzed at URI for nutrients, acidity and bacteria. Many volunteers work in teams to share their monitoring duties. Monitoring can also be a great family activity for parents and their children, and teens can use it to gain required community service hours.


Ponds, lakes and some saltwater sites are monitored at their deepest point, so access to a boat, canoe or kayak is necessary. But few river and stream sites require a boat.


“The water quality information collected by our volunteers is used by conservation organizations, policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that improve and protect the health of local waters,” said Green. “It is also used by the Rhode Island Health Department to study the connection between increased water temperatures and the health of Rhode Islanders.”


The Watershed Watch program is sponsored by the URI Cooperative Extension in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and about 40 local organizations and communities.


For more information or to register for the training sessions, contact Elizabeth Herron at 401-874-4552 or at emh@uri.edu. Visit the program’s web site for detailed information about the program and its list of 2015 monitoring locations.