URI Watershed Watch seeks volunteers to monitor lakes, ponds, streams

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Budget cuts place more emphasis on volunteer efforts

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 12, 2010 – The Watershed Watch program at the University of Rhode Island is seeking volunteers once again to conduct weekly water quality monitoring at water bodies throughout the state. This fun family activity, so vital for protecting local water resources for future generations, has taken on renewed importance.

“During economic downturns, state and federal agencies rely even more on data collected by volunteers because it’s often the only data that’s available,” said Elizabeth Herron, Watershed Watch program coordinator. “Long-term monitoring budgets are one of the first things that get cut, but if you miss a year of monitoring, that data is gone forever and you can’t recapture it. Volunteers are vital to keeping these programs going.”

Watershed Watch is a statewide volunteer monitoring program that focuses on assessing the quality of surface water resources throughout Rhode Island. The program consists of weekly measurements taken by trained volunteer monitors between May and October. 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.

Launched in 1988 with 25 volunteers monitoring a dozen lakes, the program has grown to 350 volunteers and 220 sites on 100 different water bodies – lakes, rivers, streams and bays — throughout the state and extending along the coast to Mystic, Conn.

According to Herron and Watershed Watch Director Linda Green, the overall water quality in Rhode Island is fairly good, for which they credit the state’s strong environmental regulations and the efforts of local organizations. Rhode Island has one of the nation’s most extensive databases of water quality information, thanks in large part to volunteers in the Watershed Watch program.

“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 and those that enjoy and depend upon them,” said Green.

Since 2001, the program has increased the number of coastal sites it has monitored each year, including the salt ponds along the south coast, Greenwich Bay, and Great Salt Pond on Block Island. Last year the program added new sites in Bristol Harbor and Stonington Harbor.

An introduction to the Watershed Watch program and classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will be held Sunday, March 28 at 1 p.m. and repeated Tuesday, April 6 at 6 p.m. in Weaver Auditorium in the Coastal Institute building on URI’s Kingston campus. Required field training will take place on April 10 at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. and repeated on April 17 at 9 a.m. for those monitoring lakes and ponds, and on April 17 at 1 p.m. for those monitoring rivers and streams.

The 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 many local organizations.

Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds and interests. Each potential volunteer is matched to a specific location that they will be in charge of monitoring. Since ponds, lakes and some salt water sites are monitored at their deepest point, a boat, canoe or kayak is needed, as well as some free time once a week in the middle of the day. River and stream sites, monitored early in the morning at mid-stream, are generally more accessible, with few requiring a boat for access.

For more information or to register for the training sessions, contact Elizabeth Herron at 401-874-4552 or at uriww@etal.uri.edu. Visit the program’s web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww for detailed information about the program and its list of 2010 monitoring locations.