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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Watershed Watch seeks volunteers to monitor lakes, ponds, streams

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Volunteer monitors play critical roles
in local, regional, national efforts to assess water quality

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 14, 2006 -- When state and federal environmental officials need detailed information about the health of many of Rhode Islandís water bodies, they turn to a database filled with measurements collected not by scientists or regulators but by ordinary Rhode Islanders committed to protecting their neighborhood ponds, streams and bays.

That data is playing an increasingly important role as more and more efforts to monitor the health of the environment are launched.

To ensure that this vital stream of data continues to flow, the University of Rhode Islandís Watershed Watch program, one of oldest and most comprehensive water quality monitoring efforts in the country, is seeking additional volunteers to monitor water bodies in 2006.

ďThe data collected by our volunteers is used by policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that affect the environmental health of the state and its residents,Ē said Elizabeth Herron, Watershed Watch program coordinator.

Water quality data collected by Watershed Watch volunteers has long been used by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and now it is also playing a key role in the stateís Environmental Monitoring Collaborative, which was established by the governor following the Greenwich Bay fish kill in 2003 to keep a closer eye on Rhode Islandís environmental health.

The data will soon also be incorporated into a national scientific review of lake water quality being launched next year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

An introduction to the Watershed Watch program and classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will be held on Saturday, April 1 at 9 a.m. and repeated Tuesday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the Coastal Institute building on URIís Kingston campus. Required field training will take place on April 8, 22 or 29, depending on the site the volunteer will be monitoring. The program is sponsored by URIís Cooperative Extension in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, and many local organizations.

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. ďIdeally 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,Ē noted Green. Since ponds, lakes and some salt water sites 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. With monitoring expanded in Greenwich Bay and some salt ponds, additional dockside sites are also available for those without boats.

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 programís web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ for detailed information about the program and its list of 2006 monitoring locations.