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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Watershed Watch seeks volunteers to monitor lakes, ponds, streams; training April 17

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

2010 floods affected water quality

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 5, 2011 – The Watershed Watch program at the University of Rhode Island is once again seeking volunteers to monitor water quality in lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, salt ponds and bays throughout the state. Those volunteers play a critical role in helping scientists to understand the effect that weather – like last year’s massive floods – has on water quality.

According to Linda Green, director of the Watershed Watch program, data collected from program volunteers showed that the 2010 flood appeared to flush nitrogen out of smaller rivers and streams and into larger ones. Measurements of nitrogen, the nutrient that causes algae blooms in the bay and salt ponds, in small rivers were at their lowest levels in the weeks after the flood and increased through the rest of the year, while large rivers had high nitrogen levels following the flood and levels decreased as the year progressed.

Conversely, phosphorous was flushed out of larger bodies of freshwater by the flooding but those water bodies gained phosphorous during the year as the nutrient moved from streams into lakes. Phosphorus causes algae blooms in lakes and ponds.

“Thanks to our many volunteers we have a much more detailed and complete picture of the effects of the floods on water quality then we would otherwise and we can see how the flood could affect water quality throughout the year,” said Green.

Green said that volunteers reported numerous changes in stream channels last year as the flood moved sediments downstream. The volunteers also registered increases in the maximum water temperature of most water bodies, which is probably an indication of global warming.

Watershed Watch is a statewide volunteer water quality monitoring program. Trained program volunteers conduct field monitoring every week between May and 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. Many volunteers work in teams to share their monitoring duties.

Launched in 1988 with 25 volunteers monitoring a dozen lakes, the program has grown to nearly 400 volunteers and 270 sites on 100 different water bodies – lakes, rivers, streams, salt ponds and bays -- throughout the state and extending along the coast to Mystic, Conn.

An introduction to the Watershed Watch program and classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will be held Sunday, April 17 at 1 p.m. and repeated Tuesday, April 26 at 6 p.m. in Weaver Auditorium in the Coastal Institute building on URI’s Kingston campus. Required field training will take place on April 30 at 9 a.m. and repeated at 1 p.m. and again on May 14 at 9 a.m. for those monitoring lakes, ponds and coastal sites. Field training for those monitoring rivers and streams takes place May 14 at 1 p.m.

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. 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.

According to program coordinator Elizabeth Herron, the overall water quality in Rhode Island is fairly good, for which they credit the state’s strong environmental regulations and the efforts of many local organizations. Rhode Island has one of the nation’s most extensive databases of water quality information, thanks in large part to volunteers in the Watershed Watch program.

“The water quality information collected by our volunteers is used by conservation organizations, policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that improve and protect the health of local waters and those that enjoy and depend upon them,” said Green.

The program is sponsored by the URI Cooperative Extension in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and about 40 local organizations and communities.

For more information or to register for the training sessions, contact Program Coordinator Elizabeth Herron at 401-874-4552 or at uriww@etal.uri.edu. Visit the program’s web site at www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww for detailed information about the program and its list of 2011 monitoring locations.