Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bay Journal: Volunteer Stream Monitors Help Fill Data Gaps In PA, Chesapeake Bay Watershed

For nearly 25 years,
Warwick Township has paid its own staff and eager grassroots volunteers to sample the water quality of Lititz Run, a spring-fed stream near Lititz [Lancaster County].

No state or federal regulations require them to go to the expense of keeping tabs on the stream in their midst. 

Initially, the sampling was done to help local students learn by using hands-on citizen science. Then, officials realized how useful it was to have such data at their fingertips.

They’ve used the results to persuade area farmers to participate in streamside buffer projects and coax housing developers to finance stream restorations. 

When music industry giant Rock Lititz built a massive music complex in the watershed, proof of Lititz Run’s comeback persuaded its owners to finance a $1 million wetlands restoration along the run’s tributary. [Read more here]

The ongoing restoration of Lititz Run, which is now a wild trout stream amid intensive farming, development and industries, has won the township numerous awards through the years.

“You can’t have that conversation if you don’t have any information,” said township manager Daniel Zimmerman. “If you test, you can decide how to make a stream better. I’ve found it motivates people when you show landowners the results from their own stream next to them. This is not 200 miles away. This is you.”

The Pennsylvania municipality is not alone in Chesapeake Bay drainage states in deciding to go to the expense of monitoring waterways — even when it is not required.

The city of Suffolk, VA, has been monitoring the Nansemond River and its major tributaries since 2011. City staff goes out in boats once a month to about 15 sites, checking for phosphorus, nitrates, pH, fecal coliform and other things that might indicate something is amiss.

“We’re interested in the water quality of the river. It runs right down the middle of Suffolk,” said Erin Rountree, the city’s environmental programs manager. “We have a nonprofit that does some sampling as well. It’s probably not well-known that we’re doing it but, yes, it brings a certain peace of mind.”

Within the last year, the Prince William County Soil & Water Conservation District in Virginia began using taxpayer funds to help pay for before-and-after monitoring at various streams in the county.

Most of the work on 15 sites is done by volunteers and most is paid for by grants. 

“Part of what we are doing is citizen science and [part is driven by] our need to see the status of streams in the county,” explained district manager Jay Yankey. The water-quality monitoring also fulfills the public education and outreach requirement of state stormwater permits known as MS4s.

Elsewhere in Virginia, the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District tests various streams to determine the success of best management practices on farms.

All of this monitoring is invaluable to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Through its citizen monitoring program, water quality data is collected on more than 3,600 miles of streams around the state by local governments, citizen groups and individual volunteers.

The agency uses some of the information, following carefully stipulated protocols, to determine if streams are impaired or not, as well as a first alert that there may be a pollution event needing more investigation, said James Beckley, head of the program. “It’s been a great benefit to us.”

The voluntary water testing being done by local governments and about 80 nonprofit groups in all six Bay states and District of Columbia, is the heart of a collective effort to share water monitoring results to track the health of the Chesapeake.

The Richmond-based Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative gathers the information and releases it to the public through its Chesapeake Data Explorer website.

“It really runs the gamut from just a couple of parents who are worried about their kids playing in the creek to watershed-wide testing,” said Liz Chudoba, who manages the cooperative.  

Water monitoring resources

Local governments, as well as the public, can get free help to start water monitoring programs. Here are some resources.

-- Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative. This group helps monitoring efforts in the multi-state Bay region get started by providing technical and outreach support. Help has been offered to local governments, Scouts, neighborhood associations, schools, watershed groups, Master Naturalists and others. There is limited funding for equipment but advice is given for finding funding sources. 

Test results on water quality and macroinvertebrate insects are shared on the group’s Chesapeake Data Explorer website at cmc.vims.edu. The group’s partners include the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Izaak Walton League, Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring and the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science. Info: Liz Chudoba at lchudoba@alliancefortheBay.org or chesapeakemonitoringcoop.org

-- Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Program. Since 1998, the taxpayer-funded program has supported and provided technical resources to volunteers in Virginia for water-quality testing. In 2018, community volunteers and local government staff have tested 3,600 miles of streams and 29,000 acres of lakes. The program offers training, operating procedure manuals and needed equipment. Grants are available up to $11,000. Info: James Beckley at James.Beckley@deq.virginia.gov or 804-698-4025.

[Additional Resources In PA]

-- Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM). Since 1986, this program of Dickinson College has helped groups and individuals monitor streams in Pennsylvania and encouraged them to use the data to protect and restore them. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in parts of the state have brought added interest in stream monitoring. Info: dickinson.edu/alarm, allarm@dickinson.edu or 717-245-1565.

[-- Penn State Master Watershed Stewards Program. The Master Watershed Steward Program is active in a growing number of counties, including-- Allegheny, Armstrong, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Indiana, Lancaster, Lackawanna, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Westmoreland, Wyoming and York counties.

Contact them to find out more through your local Penn State Extension Office or learn more by visiting the Master Watershed Steward webpage.  Questions can be directed to Erin Frederick at 610-391-9840 or send email to: elf145@psu.edu

[-- County Watershed Coordinators: Many local water quality monitoring programs work closely with county conservation districts which can be a great source of help. Contact county Watershed Coordinators for more information.  Click Here to contact your district.

[-- Local Watershed Groups. Many local watershed groups have their own citizen-based water quality monitoring program, so contact them if you’re interested in volunteering.  Click Here to find a local watershed group near you from WeConservePA.

[-- Mine Drainage Treatment System Monitoring. Local watershed groups involved in construction and operation of passive mine drainage treatment systems have an active volunteering water quality monitoring program for more than 200 systems in central and western Pennsylvania.  Their data is shared on the Datashed water quality database for all to see.  Read more here.

[History Of Citizen Monitoring In PA

[Note: DEP had a robust Citizens Water Quality Monitoring Program and a United Nations-recognized Senior Environment Corps Program that monitored water quality around the state.  

[There were 11,000 individuals involved in monitoring activities in 160 groups that used more than 3,000 monitoring stations in 2006. Read more here.

[Here are some voices of PA Senior Environment Corps Volunteers on the value of their work from 2006 and 2007-- 

-- PA Senior Environment Corps Volunteers - Capital Region - Why They Get Involved

-- PA Senior Environment Corps Volunteers - Capital Region - Lab Tour

-- PA Senior Environment Corps - Oldest Volunteer Homer Foster

-- PA Senior Environment Corps Volunteers Celebrate 10th Anniversary.

[Funding was all but eliminated for the program starting in 2007 by the Rendell Administration right after the 10th anniversary of the PA Senior Environment Corps.  Read more here.

[Fortunately, those efforts are now being rebuilt.]

[PA Chesapeake Bay Plan

[For more information on how Pennsylvania plans to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.     

[Click Here for a summary of the steps the Plan recommends.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.]

(Reprinted from the Chesapeake Bay Journal.)

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Related Article:

Citizen Scientists May Be An Untapped Resource For Water Quality Improvement

[Posted: Sept. 22, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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