Water quality interests many people and communities- whether the reason is to know if a river is a suitable drinking water source, a lake is safe for swimming, or a stream healthy enough to support trout- knowing the status of our waterways is an important piece of information. The health of our waterways is far more favorable than generations ago. The influence of the federal Clean Water Act, state actions and grassroots advocacy achieved impressive gains toward cleaner waters but work remains before all waterbodies meet 'fishable and swimmable' goals all the time.

Water quality monitoring plays a key role in efforts to further reduce water pollution. Monitoring provides answers to questions about the condition of waterways, informs management decisions and identifies problems. Water quality encompasses a wide range of issues making the business of water quality monitoring a complex undertaking. Monitoring must fit the situation and the questions needing answers.

Massachusetts is fortunate to have many local organizations investing in water quality monitoring. Most groups rely on volunteers whose donated time and talents stretch limited funding to provide a sound repository of information about our waterways. A few groups are fortunate to be able to allocate staff time to water quality monitoring programs while others are run by volunteers exclusively. 

DER is pleased to be able to contribute to this grassroots effort through direct technical assistance. Riverways’ staff provides guidance to groups in different phases of their programs. We work with groups just starting or resurrecting a volunteer-based monitoring program- helping them hone their goals for the initiative and develop a sound monitoring plan (often called a Quality Assurance Project Plan) to ensure their efforts are directed and appropriate to their needs.  Once a monitoring program is in place, Riverways’ staff frequently fills the role of quality control officer corroborating the program is following protocols and the data meets quality levels. We also help groups make sense of collected data, write reports and refine their project over time.

Currently Riverways’ staff serves as the quality control officer for the Blackstone River Coalition, Nashua River Watershed Association, OARS, and Parker River Clean Water Association. Combined these four groups monitor over 175 sites through the spring, summer and autumn year after year. The data these groups collect captures existing conditions, identifies problems quickly so follow-up can happen quickly and helps support management decisions. There is little doubt this cadre of trained volunteers makes a difference to the health and quality of the state's waterways. If you would like to learn more about water quality efforts and technical assistance, please contact Cindy Delpapa (cindy.delpapa@ state.ma.us).