Many of the state’s oldest river and watershed groups trace their origins to worries about degraded water quality in their local waterways. Concerned about the impact to public health and the viability of the rivers, streams and estuaries to support healthy ecosystems, many fledgling watershed groups organized volunteer-based water quality monitoring initiatives to educate communities about the problems in their local waterways; help locate the sources of pollution; work on solutions to restore or improve water quality; and raise the visibility of their river.
Some groups have kept their water quality monitoring programs active for decades. With a backbone of dedicated volunteers, groups with and without paid staff support evolved to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of monitoring water quality. Many groups have detailed monitoring plans (known as Quality Assurance Project Plans), thorough checks and redundancies to ensure the quality of the data collected, improved equipment, and extensive training programs. Most volunteers monitor their assigned locations monthly through spring, summer and autumn giving their time and talent to provide information and inspiration to their watershed groups and communities.
The data collected by these volunteers and the staff of the watershed groups informs management decisions on the local, state and even national level and show the power of citizen science to both educate and catalyze change. The Commonwealth, through the Department of Environmental Protection, has a dedicated system to allow monitoring groups to contribute their results to a shared database. This data helps the state, which cannot monitor with the frequency of the volunteer-based programs, refine their own monitoring priorities. Most groups also prepare their own annual reports or post water quality data on their web sites.