The collective effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and the streams and rivers that drain into it has been going on for decades. We have all been working to reduce pollution entering our local waterways on a variety of levels.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has worked with state partners to modify policies to better protect habitat and water quality, educate the public on land conservation options and conduct restoration projects to restore health and the diversity necessary to ensure the Bay is a thriving ecosystem.

But how do we know our efforts are working? Who is monitoring the conditions on the land and water? Can that data tell us how well we’re doing and what else we may need to do?

The Bay Program has initiated a cooperative agreement with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to work with partners to develop a process and appropriate tools to collect data from across the watershed that will help us better answer those questions.

There are a variety of groups across the watershed collecting water quality data: federal and state agencies, localities, universities and small watershed groups. Regulatory-based monitoring programs have well-established water-quality and living-resource monitoring networks operating across the Bay and its watershed.

Meanwhile, many other monitoring programs rely on volunteers — citizen scientists — to collect data. Citizen scientists are a great resource and have been making significant contributions to support new scientific insights and track water quality improvements.

In Virginia, for example, the Department of Environmental Quality has used data from volunteer monitoring groups to assess streams for the impaired waters list and identify pollution hot spots for more than 25 years.

The Alliance’s partnership with the Bay Program will allow us to ramp up our investment in and coordination of citizen science throughout the watershed. Its Scientific Technical Assessment and Reporting team has been developing strategies for sustaining and expanding the Bay Program’s water quality monitoring efforts. As part of their Building Environmental Intelligence work, they have formally recognized the use of citizen science as an opportunity to supplement efforts in measuring and tracking water quality. This, coupled with strong support from Bay Program leaders, has led to a significant investment in integrating volunteer monitoring into the program’s monitoring network through an EPA cooperative agreement with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The Alliance and its partners, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Alliance for Aquatic Resources Monitoring and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies, will work closely with the Bay Program over the next six years to build the structure needed to successfully use data being collected by a variety of groups throughout the watershed.

We will be assessing current and beginning monitoring programs and data needs to develop recommendations for standardized protocols as necessary; a tiered, data use system; technical resources such as training materials; and a centralized database with quality assurance procedures.

This structure will help us ensure that data collected by volunteers and other nontraditional groups can be used by the Bay Program to supplement their Chesapeake Bay and its basin’s long-term water-quality and living-resource monitoring network data, as well as assess the effectiveness of management actions outlined in the 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement.

All of the partners are looking forward to using the expertise gained from their own programs and leveraging knowledge from other monitoring programs throughout the watershed to help improve the process of integrating new sources of data into the monitoring network.

This level of collaboration has never been seen in our watershed. As Julie Vastine, the director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resources Monitoring stated: “It’s a wonderful initiative to leverage the unique strengths of existing programs and efforts across Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia for a common goal.”

Nicholas DiPasquale, director of the Bay Program office, said: “The Chesapeake Bay Program has long been interested in capturing the data that are collected by individuals and organizations throughout the watershed to supplement our own monitoring network. This additional information will [help us] better focus on priority areas and inform our restoration decisions.”

We look forward to working with our Chesapeake Bay watershed partners to discover what information is available as well as collect new knowledge. This will help us better inform the public of our successes that have resulted from the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

We also look forward to achieving a better understanding of where we need to focus our work and resources, so that together, we will get the job done.