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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

Drought, warm winter likely to affect water quality
URI Watershed Watch seeks monitors for lakes, ponds

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 1, 2002 -- University of Rhode Island water quality educators Linda Green and Elizabeth Herron worry that the region’s warm winter and continuing drought conditions will have a major impact on the quality of water in Rhode Island’s lakes, ponds and streams.

"Our lake levels are way down and many of our streams are dry, concentrating any contaminants that are present and adding to the usual winter stress on organisms. When we do have a major rain storm the pollutants that have been accumulating since the last storm are going to get washed into our waters," said Green. "And the warm weather has meant many lakes haven’t stayed frozen, allowing large numbers of geese to spend the entire winter on the water. That could mean spring bacteria and nutrient levels will be high."

On the other hand, if the drought breaks soon, they said the flowing water from a series of major rain events might force out pollutants and cleanse water bodies.

However it turns out, monitoring of the state’s lakes and ponds will be especially important this year. That’s why URI Watershed Watch is seeking volunteers for the upcoming water quality monitoring season.

URI Watershed Watch, a volunteer water quality monitoring program sponsored by URI’s Cooperative Extension and Rhode Island Sea Grant, is beginning its 15th year of monitoring approximately 100 water bodies in the state. With 250 volunteers and 30 sponsoring organizations, the program plays a key role in helping residents, environmental organizations, municipalities, and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management keep track of the quality of water in the state.

"DEM is very concerned about Rhode Island’s water quality, and is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine which waters are in good shape and which aren’t," said Watershed Watch program coordinator Elizabeth Herron, "but they don’t have all the necessary staff to do it. So Watershed Watch volunteers -- trained citizen scientists -- help get it done. At the same time, the program encourages organizations and citizens to become directly involved in water quality protection. It’s a two-way partnership."

Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds and interests. To qualify, volunteers must value the state’s fresh and saltwater resources and want to Watershed Watch Volunteershelp protect them. 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. River sites, monitored mid-stream, are generally more accessible, with fewer requiring a boat for access.

Mandatory training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will take place on Saturday, March 23 at 9 a.m. and Tuesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. on URI’s Kingston campus. Volunteers need only attend one of these two sessions. Additional field training will occur in April.
Communities where volunteers are especially needed include Barrington, Burrillville, Coventry, Cranston, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Johnston, Scituate, Smithfield, Warwick and West Greenwich.

The monitoring season begins in May and ends in mid-October. Once a week on a day of their choice, volunteers monitor for water clarity and temperature. Every two weeks they also monitor algae concentration and dissolved oxygen. On several designated dates, volunteers collect water samples that are analyzed at URI for nutrients, acidity and bacteria. Stream monitors do their monitoring first thing in the morning.

The Rhode Island Sea Grant Program became a major sponsor of Watershed Watch beginning in 2002, which means that increased effort will be made to monitor coastal ponds and other salt water locations this year.

"In salt water, nitrogen is the primary cause of algal blooms and other problems, whereas phosphorus is the culprit in fresh water," said Green. "We’ll now be able to rely on the expertise of Sea Grant staff to help with our coastal locations."

Generally speaking, water quality in many of Rhode Island’s lakes and streams has not degraded over the last decade, according to Green. "In most places the water quality is stable or making minor improvements, and I think that’s because our environmental laws are working and because people are becoming more educated about their own impacts on water quality – for example things like fertilizer use and septic systems."

Adds Herron, "But it’s clear from our monitoring data that any changes in land use from forested lands, such as residential and urban development or even farming, affects water quality. Those areas that are well developed or developing rapidly are the places that have the greatest water quality concerns."

For more information or to become a URI Watershed Watch volunteer, contact Green or Herron at 874-2905 or by email at uriww@etal.uri.edu. Visit their web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ for detailed information about the program and their list of 2002 monitoring locations.

For information: Linda Green 874-2905, Elizabeth Herron 874-4552, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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