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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Quality of water in ponds, streams affects water quality of Narragansett Bay

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

URI Watershed Watch seeking volunteer water quality monitors
KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 17, 2004 -- Recent concerns about the water quality in Narragansett Bay naturally raises questions about the water quality in the stateís freshwater lakes, ponds and streams as well, since most of those water bodies eventually drain into the Bay.

"In order to tell the story of the nutrient levels in the Bay, you've also got to look at the data about the nutrients in the watershed," said Linda Green, director of the University of Rhode Island's Watershed Watch program. "And to tell whether last yearís fish kill in Warwick or other Bay occurrences are natural events or not requires lots of environmental measurements."

Thatís where Watershed Watch comes in. The program involves more than 250 volunteers in monitoring the water quality in more than 100 water bodies throughout the state. With the monitoring season beginning soon, Green and colleague Elizabeth Herron are seeking additional volunteers in just about every community in Rhode Island.

Green and Herron are particularly concerned about low oxygen levels at the bottom of many of the stateís deep lakes. They believe that high levels of nutrients are being released from the bottom sediments and causing algae blooms and other problems.

"We're going to take a long hard look at the data for those lakes this year," Green said.
They're also concerned that the increasing use of road salt during the winter months is impacting the quality of water in local ponds and streams.

Sponsored by URI's Cooperative Extension, Rhode Island Sea Grant and many local organizations, URI Watershed Watch is beginning its 17th year of water quality monitoring in Rhode Island. With 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 Islandís 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 donít 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. Itís 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 be held on Thursday March 25 at 7 p.m. and will be repeated Saturday, March 27 at 9 a.m. in the Coastal Institute building 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.

According to Green, it's a considerable commitment of time and energy to participate. But Lisa McGreavy, whose family monitors Tivertonís Nanaquaket Pond, notes that "it's the one activity that gets our family out on the pond every week."

Green said that water quality in most of Rhode Islandís 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 thatís 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, "Water quality in an area affects the value of our homes, too. Maintaining good water quality in local bodies of water is absolutely worth the effort "

For more information or to register to become a URI Watershed Watch volunteer, contact Green or Herron at 401-874-2905 or by email . Visit its web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ for detailed information about the program and its list of 2004 monitoring locations.