New monitoring cooperative aims to expand role of citizen science

From left, Nissa Dean, from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; James Beckley, from the VA Department of Environmental Quality; Greg Barranco, from the EPA; Anne Dunckel, from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; Alex Fries, from UMCES; and Lea Rubin, from the Issac Walton League; identify priority data needs for water quality in Virginia at the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative Workshop at Dickinson College. (Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay)

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been involved in many innovative efforts and programs in the 45 years that we’ve been working on Chesapeake Bay issues.

We have participated in the creation of new projects and programs that have shaped our approach to engaging the public in the Bay restoration effort. Expanding the role of volunteers in water quality monitoring has been a long-term passion.

The Alliance is excited to be leading the first Baywide effort to integrate citizen science data into the Chesapeake Bay Program to help inform policy management and water quality assessments.

During the opening plenary session at the recent Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the partners in the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative introduced the region’s watershed community to the project and its accomplishments to date.

The CMC is a partnership between the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Izaak Walton League of America, Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network. Working together, the partners will provide technical, logistical and outreach support for the integration of volunteer-based and nontraditional water quality and macroinvertebrate monitoring data into the Bay Program’s monitoring network.

We will be working with diverse partners to collect and share new and existing water quality data. Through this collaboration, we aim to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the Chesapeake watershed’s health.

A major goal of the effort is to explore opportunities for state and federal agencies to use new sources of data in their assessments of the watershed. There are many sources of collected data: volunteers, local governments, soil and water conservation districts, schools, universities and watershed organizations. Right now, much of these data are neither shared nor used to their fullest value.

Some of the reasons are the need for consistency in methods and protocols for data collection, quality control for volunteer monitoring efforts, and a centralized and efficient way for groups to share data. The CMC is working to address these needs.

It envisions a community where all collected data of known quality are used to inform watershed management decisions. This will allow the Bay Program to track the Chesapeake’s health and determine the success of restoration efforts. The integration of these data into the monitoring network will provide new, cost-effective water quality information as well as create a framework that could be applied to other data types and be used to measure progress toward meeting the goals of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

The cooperative is in its second year. Focus so far has been on developing a portfolio of resources that will support the many groups who want to contribute to the monitoring of the Bay’s rivers and streams.

In mid-October, the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative convened a Prioritization Workshop at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, to ensure that the program reflects the priority needs and demands of data users. Representatives from the volunteer monitoring community, and state and federal governments throughout the watershed discussed how data collected by a diverse spectrum of monitoring groups can be best used by agencies to assess watershed health.

Participants shared information and discovered the benefits of using volunteer data while building new connections between organizations. These partnerships provide an opportunity to bring an unprecedented level of support to government agencies.

Some of the priority data needs identified included information on the status and trends of water quality in watersheds with high concentrations of agriculture where no data is being collected, as well as watersheds where plans are being made for significant new implementation of best management practices.

In addition to expanding and better integrating existing monitoring efforts into the Bay Program partnership, we also hope to help communities set up monitoring programs in new areas so that we can more accurately understand the impact of land use or the progress of restoration efforts.

By December, the CMC will release the results of the Prioritization Workshop outcomes and how we will use the input received to develop a Baywide volunteer and nontraditional monitoring program.

In the months to come, the project will continue the development of the quality assurance program and build the foundation for data availability. A large part of this task is building a database that will function as the central hub of data available to the public and other users of water quality data. The cooperative has contracted with Chesapeake Environmental Communications to create the database and features for data mapping, graphing and interpretation.

We hope you will get involved too!

The Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative has begun its outreach to seek new partnerships. Any group interested in sharing existing data or establishing a volunteer water quality monitoring program in their area can join. Groups could include: watershed organizations, conservation groups, soil and water conservation districts, local governments, schools or individuals.

Joining the program will provide future opportunities for water-quality monitoring training, assistance in acquiring monitoring supplies, technical support for establishing and maintaining a monitoring program, data interpretation and report card development workshops, and access to the user-friendly database for storing and managing water quality data.

Visit for details or to sign up for the e-newsletter. Information is also found at

Take some time to complete our Chesapeake Monitoring Census at and tell us about your water monitoring program by clicking on the census link on our web page. Notifications about trainings, resources and tools available through the cooperative will be included in the quarterly e-newsletters.

By gathering data on water quality from all sources and providing a clear and consistent framework for data collection and analysis, we will gain a better understanding of the health of our watershed and our progress toward the Chesapeake’s restoration.

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

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