Many of us think of spring and summer as the time the birds start singing, flowers start blooming and the weather warms up.

In the water quality monitoring world, the season also means we are dusting off our secchi disks and getting our sampling equipment ready for a new monitoring season! At the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, we believe that water quality monitoring is essential to understanding the health of our waterways, land and people.

Here are five reasons why you should get to know the health of your local stream this summer!

1. Understand how you and your local stream are connected.

We all live in a watershed and whether we know it or not, we have an effect on our local waterways and our local water also affects us. Whether you frequent the local fishing hole, love to kayak or just love to eat seafood, understanding the health of your local and regional watershed can help you make more informed decisions on what to eat and where to play.

For instance, if you live in an area that contains a combined sewer overflow system or areas susceptible to leaking septic systems or broken sewer lines, monitoring bacteria (E.coli or other Enterococcus bacteria) levels in waterways can indicate when the water is safe to swim. These bacteria can cause illness in anyone recreating in or on the water, so it’s important to know when their levels are high in a local stream so you know when to avoid swimming or entering the water.

2. Become an advocate for action.

Once you become familiar with your local, state or regional water quality issues, you have the foundation work in place to become a great advocate for action. Depending on the water quality issue, there are plenty of things you can do in your everyday life to make a change. If bacteria is the main issue, picking up your pet waste, encouraging your neighbors to pick up pet waste or setting up pet waste stations in your neighborhood or local park are great options to raise awareness and help mitigate issues. 

Additionally, working with your local health department on monitoring efforts can help them identify problem areas and issue advisories for unsafe conditions. Working with your local government officials can raise awareness about such issues as a broken sewer line. Other problems can be mitigated by removing turf grass and planting native plants instead. Removing turf grass reduces the need to fertilize and mow. Meanwhile, native plants allow for more water to infiltrate into the ground, reducing runoff to the local storm sewer system. 

Check out our Reduce Your Stormwater program and Native Plant Center for do-it-yourself resources.

3. Connect to other groups and people with an interest in the health of local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Spreading your good work to your neighbors is a great way to connect and broaden your impact. Additionally, connecting with a local watershed organization is a great opportunity to meet people with similar goals and interests, as well as learn about other ways you can help. Many organizations organize trash cleanups, provide financial incentives to plant native species and offer a variety of other tools and resources to help you make the right choices. It’s also a great way to connect with other people who have an interest in the health of our local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Check out our Project Clean Stream program to organize a trash cleanup near you.

4. Make an impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Everything we do in our local watershed impacts the Chesapeake Bay. The biggest issues facing the Bay today are litter, debris, nutrients and sediment. Reducing these contaminants in a local watershed helps to reduce the amount that reaches the Chesapeake and is essential for its restoration to be successful. As a result of efforts already undertaken, we have seen the largest acreage of sea grass in the Bay in the recent decades of monitoring. Though the amount of acreage is still not up to what once covered the Bay floor, this is an indicator that we are headed in the right direction. Now is the time to continue and increase the efforts so that we can ensure a healthy Bay for future generations.

5. Get involved and connect to the larger picture.

It is imperative to have sustainable water quality monitoring data to be able to track the progress of restoration efforts on our local watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay.

The state and federal agencies only have the capacity to handle so many sites, therefore it is important to engage volunteer groups to fill in the data gaps. For years, there have been hundreds of volunteer groups, agencies and institutions active in collecting environmental data across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Varied protocols and sampling procedures by these groups, though, have limited our ability to build cohesive datasets, making the data difficult to use on a broader scale by the state and federal agencies.

The Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative was established to provide grass roots volunteer monitoring organizations with the opportunity to pool their data of known quality to inform watershed management decision makers and restoration efforts.

The CMC is a partnership between the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Izaak Walton League, Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM), and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The CMC creates a powerful tool to advocate for clean water at all levels: local, state and federal. Through the Chesapeake Data Explorer, a centralized data hub for the CMC, you can see current monitoring efforts. We are always looking to expand our reach and fill in data gaps, so if you see an area close to you that is not currently monitored, contact a CMC representative to learn how to get involved.

This summer, as you’re splashing through a creek in a kayak, fishing off your boat in the Bay or wading in a local stream to catch crayfish, think about your connection to your local waterway. Are you doing all that you can to ensure that these waters will be healthy enough to sustain life for years to come?

The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.