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Stream Health

Water Action Volunteers - Stream Monitoring

Monitoring Objectives

Wadeable Trend Reference Sites

The Water Action Volunteers Stream Monitoring Program (WAV)
incorporates three levels of participation for citizen scientists who
are interested in monitoring local streams: Introductory (Level 1),
Status and Trends (Level 2), and Special Projects Monitoring (Level 3). A primary objective of introductory monitoring is to increase public understanding of watersheds and how human uses of the land impact stream quality, while building a baseline of basic water quality information. Data collected help to identify acute issues in wadeable streams. Since everyone initiates participation at this level, volunteers are able to gauge interest in becoming more involved, and trust is able to be built with DNR staff who commonly partner with volunteers at other levels. For the subset of volunteers who choose to carry out Status and Trends Monitoring, their primary objective is to obtain long-term (3-5 years minimum) data to characterize trends in continuous temperature over time, as well as to continue to monitor for acute issues for other parameters routinely monitored by DNR water quality biologists such as dissolved oxygen and pH. Monitoring objectives of Special Projects vary as these projects change year to year. Efforts for special projects have included collecting chloride, specific conductance, total phosphorus, and E. coli data to characterize conditions and generate data that may be used to help determine if impaired waters listings are warranted.

Monitoring Design

In Introductory Monitoring, dissolved oxygen, temperature, transparency, and streamflow are monitored monthly between April (or May) and October. Macroinvertebrates are monitored in spring and fall, and habitat is assessed once per year in summer. In Status and Trends Monitoring, dissolved oxygen, pH and transparency are monitored monthly between April (or May) and October on predetermined dates. Continuous temperature monitoring devices are deployed in the spring and retrieved in the fall so that water temperature data can be downloaded and entered into the SWIMs system. Meters for monitoring pH and dissolved oxygen must be calibrated by the citizen monitors on each sampling day.

Current Special Research Projects include a road salt monitoring effort in which specific conductance and chloride are assessed in urban areas of the state, and total phosphorus monitoring to assist DNR water quality biologists. For the road salt monitoring project, volunteers monitor monthly April-November and twice per month or more frequently between December and March, as they carry out triggered monitoring during storm events in winter months. For total phosphorus monitoring, volunteers follow WisCALM guidance for streams, monitoring monthly May through October no fewer than 15 days apart and about 30 days apart.

Water Quality Indicators

Water quality indicators monitored by volunteers in streams of Wisconsin include dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, transparency, stream flow, habitat, macroinvertebrates, specific conductance, chloride, total phosphorus, and E. coli.

Quality Assurance

Introductory Monitoring: All volunteers who participate attend a hands-on training to learn methods. They are also provided written methods and short refresher training videos to reinforce learning. Local coordinators often (though not always) monitor with new volunteers on their first site visit. Data are also quality assured.

Status and Trends Monitoring: All volunteers who participate attend a hands-on training to learn calibration and field monitoring methods. They are also provided written methods at the training session and short refresher training videos were developed in 2014 to reinforce learning throughout the monitoring season. An EPA-approved Quality Assurance Project Plan defines quality assurance procedures. In addition, ten percent of volunteers are selected each year to be included in a side-by-side methods and equipment check by a WAV staff person or local coordinator. The person administering the QA/QC check observes the volunteers as they calibrate meters and as they carry out field monitoring. Volunteers are provided guidance if methods are not being followed and steps are taken to perform maintenance on equipment if data results between the QA/QC administrator and the volunteer fall outside of expected ranges. Data are also quality assured.

Special Projects Monitoring: All volunteers who participate attend a hands-on training to learn calibration methods, in field monitoring methods, and proper chain of custody, storage and shipping procedures (as appropriate for each project).They are also provided written methods at the training session to reinforce learning. Quality Assurance Project Plans have been developed for both the road salt and total phosphorus monitoring projects. The general methodology followed is described below. Data are also quality assured.

Quality Assurance for Volunteer Stream Monitoring

The Water Action Volunteers Stream Monitoring Program (WAV) is implementing a protocol to document the accuracy and precision of data collected by volunteers. Water samples collected by DNR field staff go through a similar qualityassurance/quality control (QA/QC) protocol. These tests document the accuracy and precision of the data collected and look at natural variability and sampling error. Each year, ten percent of sites to be monitored for each special project are randomly selected to have quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) samples collected by the volunteer monitoring that site. Two types of QA/QC samples are collected by volunteers: field blank and field replicate (duplicate) samples. These are shipped along with the volunteer's regular sample to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene for analysis.

Data Management

Field data are directly entered into the WAV Level 1 or the DNR SWIMS online database systems as appropriate. For Introductory Monitoring, volunteers or local coordinators submit basic required information about a site to the database enabling WAV staff to approve proposed sites and to complete the site registration process. Volunteers enter data results following field monitoring. Expected data ranges are defined in the online database, and volunteers are immediately alerted if data fall outside the defined range for each parameter so they can make corrections to their data entry. Additionally, each volunteer is linked with a local data coordinator who must review and approve all data entered to the database before they are available to data users. For Status and Trends Monitoring and Special Project Monitoring in which field data are collected by volunteers, the SWIMS database is used. In SWIMS, volunteers must initially obtain Wisconsin Access Management user identification (WAMs ID) and then contact WAV staff or a SWIMS file manager to gain access to SWIMS. Once contacted, the SWIMS file manager sets up each station as a project and link the volunteer with that project to enable volunteers to enter data to SWIMS. Volunteers enter data results following field monitoring. When there is a laboratory component of a monitoring project, State Laboratory of Hygiene staff transmits results through the Lab Data Entry System to the SWIMs database. Ongoing data quality checks are made by WAV staff to assess data entered to the SWIMS database.


Collected data are summarized through the SWIMS database, the DNR's website and the WAV Program website, where summary reports and graphs from SWIMS are available for downloading and review. The WAV data collected for Tier II and III work will also be summarized on a biennial basis for the purpose of reporting on the status of the state's waters for the Integrated Water Quality Report to Congress (every two years). The next reporting period is 2016. The data will also be used for key parameter package analyses and statewide condition summaries. For highly trained volunteers following established protocols for ambient water chemistry, there is no differentiation between data collected by volunteers and water quality biologists.

Programmatic Evaluation

Program reviews of citizen volunteer initiatives are made on an ongoing basis due to the need to continually evaluate the state's expenditures of resources. New and creative ways to work with partners and volunteers in the monitoring program are of great interest. The work of Wisconsin streams, lakes and wetland volunteers is tremendously valued.

Last revised:

Tuesday May 30 2017