Bay Journal

Volunteer water monitoring program celebrates 25 years of success

  • By Chris French on June 01, 2010
  • Comments are closed for this article.

The year 2010 is a benchmark for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. RiverTrends-our volunteer water monitoring program-celebrates its 25th anniversary.

As the oldest, continuous volunteer water-monitoring program in Virginia and one of the oldest in the nation, it is appropriate to reflect on not only our successes, but also to recognize how volunteer water-monitoring as a whole has evolved during this time period.

RiverTrends was originally envisioned as a way to engage citizens in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort and to produce high-quality data that can be used by local, state and regional partners. This goal has not only been achieved, but exceeded. This is particularly true in Virginia.

Many other volunteer and watershed organizations have developed volunteer water-monitoring programs as well-there are more than 95 groups and organizations in Virginia alone. While the majority of these groups have focused on local streams and estuaries, several, like the RiverTrends program, have had a state or regional focus.

Collectively, these groups have engaged countless citizens throughout the commonwealth.

Not only have these volunteer monitoring efforts been a launching pad for civic engagement and environmental education activities, but they have acted as a catalyst for launching professional careers in the environmental sciences. Several students who were exposed to volunteer monitoring in this 25-year period pursued degrees and careers in the natural resource field. The education that developed from various volunteer monitoring programs is partly responsible for this.

In Virginia, volunteer monitors have achieved several successes over the last 12 years.

Many have interacted with local and state representatives, educating them on the value of their conservation efforts. During difficult economic times, volunteer monitors have helped to restore funding to natural resource programs after state budget cuts by contacting their elected representatives.

Since its establishment in 1990, citizens have twice restored program cuts to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Citizen Water Monitoring Grant program.

Additionally, the DEQ has developed protocols allowing approved, citizen-generated water quality data to be used by the agency. The DEQ will use volunteer data to support their water quality programs if there is an approved quality assurance program plan. Several volunteer groups have worked with the agency to develop these plans so their data can be used to its maximum extent.

For example, the DEQ uses citizen-generated data-along with university and federal agency data-in their biennial water quality assessment report. This report evaluates the water quality conditions of Virginia's rivers, lakes and estuaries and determines whether water standards are being met.

Volunteer-generated water quality data that has undergone the DEQ's approval process is used to list and de-list streams in the development of total maximum daily load plans and to track TMDL implementation.

In 2007, Del. (now Congressman) Rob Whitman successfully sponsored legislation in the General Assembly that established a 3,000-stream-mile assessment goal for the DEQ based on volunteer generated data. This goal has not only been met, but exceeded.

While volunteer data has been accepted and institutionalized with Virginia state government, it is also useful at the local level. Several groups have established partnerships with local governments to supplement water quality data for watershed planning and stormwater management programs.

These volunteer, community-based efforts have far exceeded the vision that was originally developed for these programs 25 years ago.

While it is important to reflect on the present successes of community-based volunteers throughout the region, we keep our eyes focused on future. We look forward to the continued evolution of these volunteer programs and their successes over the next 25 years.

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About Chris French

Chris French is the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Virginia director.

Read more articles by Chris French

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