KINGSTON, R.I. — March 16, 2017 – Thirty years ago when the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program got its start, little was known about the many factors that affect water quality in local lakes, ponds and streams. In many cases, no one even knew what the water quality conditions were.
Thanks to the program, much more is known today about how land use, seasonal weather patterns, climate change and other factors impact water bodies in both good and bad ways.
The program is now seeking additional volunteers to conduct weekly measurements from May to October in the 220 lakes, ponds, streams and bays monitored by Watershed Watch participants.
“One of the things that’s been fascinating to observe in the last 30 years is that, even in a state the size of Rhode Island, weather patterns in different parts of the state affect lakes and ponds in different ways,” said Elizabeth Herron, coordinator of the program. “A big storm in the northern part of the state might not impact South County lakes at all.”
“Some water bodies do better under some conditions than others,” added Linda Green, Watershed Watch director. “Some lakes and ponds do really well in dry years because there is little roadway run-off carrying nutrients and pollutants into the water. But others need that run-off to flush out pollutants that are already in the water or are entering through groundwater, perhaps from contaminated septic systems.”
Since the program began, harmful algae blooms are increasing in many locations, like Warwick Pond in Warwick, Upper Melville Pond in Portsmouth, and Mashapaug Pond in Providence. The data collected by Watershed Watch volunteers is now being used to conduct risk assessments of those bodies and others at the greatest risk for algae blooms.
Herron said the warming climate is increasingly being reflected in the water quality monitoring data.
“Our lake waters are staying warm for longer periods,” she said. “And our deep lakes are especially heating up, which leads to significant ecological changes. And since we’re not seeing ice on our ponds for extended periods in the winter any more, some species are becoming active at unusual times – perhaps when their preferred food resources aren’t available – and that could knock the system out of balance.”
The Watershed Watch program is one of the longest running citizen science projects in Rhode Island. Its 350 volunteers play a critical role in collecting data that is used by watershed conservation organizations, policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that improve and protect the health of local waters.
Classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will take place at URI’s Kingston campus Sunday, April 2 at 1 p.m. It will be repeated on Wednesday, April 5 at 6 p.m. Field training will be conducted later in April.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds and interests. Volunteers are matched to a specific location – usually one that they already have a particular interest in – that they will be in charge of monitoring. Every week or two on a day of their choice, volunteers monitor for water clarity, temperature, algae concentrations and dissolved oxygen. On several designated dates, volunteers collect water samples that are brought to URI to be analyzed for nutrients, acidity and bacteria.
According to Herron and Green, many volunteers work in teams to share their monitoring duties. Monitoring can also be an enjoyable 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. Few river and stream sites require a boat, and many other sites are monitored from shore or by wading.
Watershed Watch is sponsored by 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 Herron at 401-874-4552 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the program’s website at http://web.uri.edu/watershedwatch for detailed information about the program and its list of 2017 monitoring locations.