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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

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

Weather reversal from drought to deluge
likely affecting water quality

URI Watershed Watch seeks monitors for lakes, ponds, streams

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 10, 2003 -- Last year at this time, University of Rhode Island water quality educators Linda Green and Elizabeth Herron fielded dozens of inquiries about the region’s drought and how it would affect water quality in the area’s lakes, ponds and streams. This year the questions are just the opposite, as southern New England has experienced an unusually wet fall and winter, effectively ending last year’s drought.

"Weather has a tremendous impact on water quality," said Green. "During drought years when lake levels are way down and many streams are dry, contaminants that are present become concentrated and add to the usual winter stress on organisms. In wet years, pollutants from roadways, lawns, septic systems and elsewhere get flushed into our water bodies. On the other hand, major rain storms occasionally flush out pollutants from some ponds."

Either way, monitoring of the state’s lakes, ponds and streams will be especially important this year. That’s why URI Watershed Watch is seeking volunteers in nearly every community in Rhode Island for the upcoming water quality monitoring season. New this year will be monitoring on a number of the streams that flow into Greenwich Bay from East Greenwich and Warwick to track bacteria and nutrient inputs to this prime shellfishing area.

A volunteer water quality monitoring program sponsored by URI’s Cooperative Extension, Rhode Island Sea Grant and many local organizations, URI Watershed Watch is beginning its 16th year of monitoring approximately 100 water bodies in the state. With 250 volunteers and considerable local involvement, the program plays a key role in helping residents, environmental organizations, municipalities, and the state Department of Environmental Management keep track of water quality in the state.

"DEM is very concerned about Rhode Island’s water quality, and it is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine which waters are in good shape and which aren’t," explained Herron, "but they don’t have all the necessary staff to do it. So Watershed Watch volunteers help get it done. At the same time, the program encourages organizations and citizens to become directly involved in water quality protection. It’s an effective partnership among many groups."

Volunteers come from all walks of life and are of all ages, occupations, educational backgrounds and interests. Each potential volunteer is matched to a specific location that they will be in charge of monitoring. "Ideally we try to find more than one volunteer per site so they can share monitoring duties. We also have a number of families who monitor together as a way to be outside and environmentally active together," noted 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. River and stream sites, monitored early in the morning at mid-stream, are generally more accessible, with few requiring a boat for access.

Classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will take place on Saturday, March 22 at 9 a.m. and will be repeated Tuesday, March 25 at 7 p.m. on URI’s Kingston campus. Volunteers are encouraged to attend one of these sessions. Required field training will take place in April.

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 concentrations and dissolved oxygen. On several designated dates, volunteers collect water samples that are analyzed at URI for nutrients, acidity and bacteria.

Green said that water quality in most of Rhode Island’s lakes and streams has not degraded over the last decade. "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."

Added Herron, "But it’s clear from our monitoring data that any changes in land use from forested lands to residential and urban development or even farming, affect 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 register to become a URI Watershed Watch volunteer, contact Green or Herron at 401-874-2905 or by email at uriww@etal.uri.edu. Visit its web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ for detailed information about the program and its list of 2003 monitoring locations.

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