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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Watershed Watch seeks volunteer water quality monitors at locations throughout Rhode Island

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Most of state’s lakes, ponds, streams in good shape

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 4, 2005 – After 17 years of monitoring the water quality in dozens of water bodies around Rhode Island, the volunteers and staff of the University of Rhode Island Watershed Watch program are still coming up with unexpected results.

Last year, for instance, volunteers confirmed that many of the deepest ponds in the state – those more than 15 feet deep, including Sand Pond in Warwick, Carbuncle Pond in Coventry, Prince’s Pond in Barrington, and Upper Slatersville Reservoir in North Smithfield – experience low oxygen levels in the cold, bottom layers of water late in the summer. As a result, pollutants trapped in the sediments are released into the water, often causing significant algae blooms in the fall or following spring.

“Although water quality is variable around the state, the good news is that, generally, we have found few negative trends in water quality in the state,” said Elizabeth Herron, Watershed Watch program coordinator. “Considering the amount of development in Rhode Island, it’s reassuring that our water quality isn’t rapidly degrading. It appears that the best management practices in place are doing the trick to protect many of our water bodies.”

Watershed Watch works with about 350 volunteers to monitor the water quality at more than 200 sites on more than 100 water bodies throughout the state. With the monitoring season beginning soon, Herron and Watershed Watch director Linda Green are seeking additional volunteers in just about every community in Rhode Island, including at several new sites in Greenwich Bay.

An introduction to the Watershed Watch program and classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will be held on Saturday, March 26 from 9:30 a.m. to noon and will be repeated Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. in the Coastal Institute building on URI’s Kingston campus. Required field training will take place on April 16 and again on May 7.

Sponsored by URI’s Cooperative Extension in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, R.I. Department of Environmental Management and many local organizations, URI Watershed Watch plays a key role in helping residents, environmental organizations, municipalities, and the state keep track of water quality in the state.

“Our Greenwich Bay volunteers will work with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program to look at bacteria levels, dissolved oxygen and nutrients in the Bay,” Green said. “We hope these volunteers can be a sort of first alert system so we can find out about water quality problems before we have another massive fish kill.”

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.

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.

For more information or to register to become a URI Watershed Watch volunteer, contact Herron at 401-874-4552 or at uriww@etal.uri.edu. Visit the program’s web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ for detailed information about the program and its list of 2005 monitoring locations.