Valiant volunteers watch out for our water

Sarah Gluckman collecting water sample in a boat
Sarah Gluckman of Vermont Lay Monitoring Program collects a sample.

You might say this post misses the boat. It’s about citizen scientists who monitor water quality—and World Water Day was last week. But  the remarkable thing about these volunteers is that they never stop. They work all year round and nearly around the clock to keep our rivers, streams, and lakes healthy.

Now I know that there are a lot of citizen scientists who are dedicated to what they do. But these people are seriously pushing the envelope.

They’re out there, sometimes hip-deep in chilly waters, dutifully taking samples week after week. They build their own monitoring equipment: siphoning systems, extendable sampling rods, and turbidity-measuring tools called Secchi disks, to name a few. A group in northern California just published The Bug Book, a 200-page guide to identifying “macroinvertebrates,” microscopic animals that reflect the fitness of a waterway. It’s packed with more than 200 photos and 75 detailed  illustrations of the little critters!

I recently read about these and many more accomplishments in the Volunteer Monitor, a national newsletter. Editor Eleanor Ely, whose 20 years working on the newsletter mirrors the commitment of the volunteers themselves, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of citizen water monitors in the U.S. alone. They safeguard their local neighborhood watersheds by sharing their data and observations with local and federal agencies and environmental researchers; in addition they often conduct clean-up and maintenance campaigns.

Ralph Vogel with a Secchi disk
Ralph Vogel, a volunteer for 36 years, with Secchi disk he made

Ellie kindly agreed to let us excerpt some photos and tidbits from her latest issue, which celebrates the accomplishments of what she calls “amazing volunteers.” For all the details, you can download a PDF version of the full issue.

Many local water monitoring groups recently have submitted their programs to our Project Finder (see the list below). We’re delighted to be able to help promote their work and pull in more volunteers—and we hope that lots more will join us. Welcome aboard!

Matthew Evans wearing safety glasses and practicing oxygen testing
Matthew Evans, 15, practicing oxygen testing at a workshop. (photo: Kate Young)

Categories: Biology, Chemistry, Citizen Science, Ecology & Environment, Nature & Outdoors, Ocean & Water