URI Watershed Watch program seeks volunteers to monitor water quality in state’s water bodies

For more than 30 years the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program has worked with local communities to track the many factors that affect water quality in local lakes, ponds, streams, and coastal waters and to determine their current conditions. Thanks to the program, much more is known today about how land use, seasonal weather patterns, climate change and other factors affect water bodies in good and bad ways, which leads to better decision making.

The program is now seeking additional volunteers to conduct weekly or biweekly monitoring from May to October in the 220 lakes, ponds, streams and bays sponsored by local organizations.

“It is amazing how much conditions even in a state the size of Rhode Island can vary,” said Elizabeth Herron, coordinator of the program. “Weather patterns in different parts of the state affect our waters in different ways, and local land use has a huge impact. A big storm might hit only one part of the state. And even statewide storms have varying impacts.”

“Some water bodies do better under some conditions than others,” added Linda Green, Watershed Watch director. “Some lakes and ponds do really well in dry years because there is little roadway run-off carrying nutrients and pollutants into the water. But others need that run-off to flush out pollutants that are already in the water, or entering through groundwater, perhaps contaminated by septic systems and other sources.”

Herron and Green said that monitoring water quality is an important way to understand these different impacts so that communities can be sure that they are effectively protecting important local resources and spotting problems early.

“We think of monitoring as a kind of insurance. We hope to never see a problem, but if we aren’t monitoring we won’t know that a problem exists until it’s far along – and usually much more difficult and expensive to fix,” Green explained.

For example, since the program began in 1987, harmful algae blooms have become more common at many locations, like Warwick Pond in Warwick, Upper Melville Pond in Portsmouth, and Mashapaug Pond in Providence. The data collected by Watershed Watch volunteers is now being used to conduct risk assessments of those bodies and others at the greatest risk for algae blooms…[Read more]