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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

What’s Black and White and Read All Over?
URI seeks volunteers for water quality monitoring program

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 27, 2001 -- No, it’s not another bad joke. What’s the answer? A Secchi disk.

The Secchi disk -- a black and white patterned disk -- is a simple tool that citizens and scientists around the world have been using for more than 100 years to assess water clarity. It’s also the most basic tool in the arsenal of the URI Watershed Watch volunteer monitoring program. The disk is lowered over the edge of a boat until it can’t be seen. The lower the disk can be seen, the clearer the water. This simple tool is recognized by scientists as a very useful indicator of water quality.

In addition to weekly monitoring for water clarity, every two weeks volunteers in the fourteen-year-old Watershed Watch program also monitor water temperature, algae concentration, and dissolved oxygen. On several designated dates, volunteers also collect water samples that are analyzed at URI for nutrients, acidity and bacteria.

As the 2001 monitoring season approaches, URI is seeking additional volunteers.

"People often ask us what kind of background they need to be a successful monitor," said Program Director Linda Green, "Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds, and interests. Very few of our volunteers consider themselves scientists. We have a growing number of parents and children who are monitoring together. It’s become a family activity that many also use as a school science fair project." Green’s three teenage daughters, for example, have been helping monitor Yawgoo Pond since they were old enough to sit still in the family rowboat.

"A critical first step in protecting or improving a water body is finding out what the water quality is right now," added Green. Since ponds and lakes are monitored at their deepest point, a boat, canoe or kayak is needed, as well as some free time once a week in the middle of the day. "Folks who monitor shallow rivers and streams need to be prepared to wade right in. Surfers go out on their boards."

Communities where volunteers are especially needed include Burrillville, Coventry, Cranston, Exeter, Hopkinton, Johnston, Smithfield, Warwick and West Greenwich. (Editors: A complete list of communities and water bodies where volunteers are needed is attached.)

"We do our best to team up volunteers so that the responsibility for each body of water is shared," explained Elizabeth Herron, program coordinator. "We assign volunteers to locations they are interested in, provide training and supplies, and analyze their water samples in our laboratory here at URI.

"There is a big nationwide push on to characterize water quality and assess what quantity of pollutants a water body can absorb before the water quality is too poor to allow swimming and fishing," continued Herron. "Much of the data used to make the initial assessments in Rhode Island are being collected by Watershed Watch volunteers. Since our volunteers are already collecting much of the necessary baseline data, DEM can concentrate their resources on conducting intensive studies to determine pollutant loadings and how to best clean up polluted waters."

The data is evaluated by the state Department of Environmental Management, which, along with URI Cooperative Extension and numerous local sponsors, helps to fund the Watershed Watch program and expand its reach to new locations. Watershed Watch has more than 30 sponsoring organizations and 250 volunteers monitoring more than 100 water bodies in Rhode Island

The required classroom training for new volunteers will be provided on Saturday morning, April 7, and repeated on Tuesday evening, April 10 on URI’s Kingston campus. Field training will take place on several dates in early May.

For more information on how to become a URI Watershed Watch volunteer, contact Linda Green at 874-2905 or Elizabeth Herron at 874-4552 or by email at The program’s website can be found at

For Information: Linda Green 874-2905, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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