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

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KINGSTON, R.I. – March 22, 2013 – Twenty-five years of water quality data collected by volunteers from the Watershed Watch program at the University of Rhode Island has shed light on the variability of the conditions of Rhode Island’s ponds, rivers and streams and how climate change and the increasingly severe weather affects them. The program is now seeking additional volunteers to continue to monitor the state’s water bodies.

“We know that our waters are highly variable from site to site and from year to year,” said Elizabeth Herron, Watershed Watch program coordinator. “Rainfall affects sites very differently – some respond well to dry weather, others to wet weather. It depends on whether they need to have excess nutrients flushed out or they are harmed by nutrients flushed in from the watershed.”

Herron and colleague Linda Green, the program’s director, say that the warming temperatures of Rhode Island’s water bodies is leading to increased numbers of ever-larger algal blooms, with even more expected in the future.

“The good news is that the state’s efforts to protect water quality, through regulations and best management practices, seem to be generally working,” Herron said. “Most sites are not showing significant signs of degradation despite increased development over the last several decades. But there are subtle signs of decline, so we need to stay vigilant.”

URI Watershed Watch volunteers play a critical role in helping scientists understand the effect that weather and land use have on water quality by conducting field monitoring every week 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. Many volunteers work in teams to share their monitoring duties.

Launched in 1988 with 25 volunteers monitoring a dozen lakes, the program has grown to nearly 400 volunteers and 270 sites on 100 different water bodies – lakes, rivers, streams, salt ponds and bays — throughout Rhode Island and extending west along the coast to Mystic, Conn.

An introduction to the Watershed Watch program and classroom training for new volunteers will be held Sunday, April 7 at 1 p.m. and repeated on Tuesday, April 9 at 6 p.m. in Weaver Auditorium in the Coastal Institute building on URI’s Kingston campus. Required field training will take place on several Saturdays in April and May. Volunteers must participate in one field session.

“We find that the classroom training helps volunteers better understand exactly what and why they are monitoring and to feel more connected to the program and to the water body they will be monitoring,” Herron said. “The training session doesn’t obligate them to become a volunteer, and it’s a great way to learn more about water quality.”

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.

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 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 at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww for detailed information about the program and its list of 2013 monitoring locations.