Adventures in Monitoring

Strap on your snowshoes and follow me as the Roundtable tracks down monitoring demonstrations and useful resources....

Stream Monitoring

So, you've started a watershed group. Or maybe you're a volunteer or even a new VISTA in an unfamiliar watershed. How do you do this water monitoring stuff anyway? Luckily, you'll find many resources below to help guide you, including a monitoring demonstration byFriends of Deckers Creek's Sarah McClurg.
1. Preliminary Work

Hang on to your waders. There's a lot of planning that goes into developing a monitoring program first.

If you're accessing a stream via a landowner's private property, make sure you have permission. Here's a sample document if you need official documentation.


2. Before you go into the field

3. Field Measurements

MixtureSet probes into water. If you are monitoring sources emanating from several pipes at one site, use a dip cup to collect a mixture of water from the pipes. Use a "real-time" mixture from all discharging pipes. To get an accurate mixture of water, collect water into a container for the same amount of time from each pipe. Here, Sarah demonstrates collecting 3 seconds worth of water from each pipe. However, more time is much better than less time. If you can catch each pipe for 30 seconds, do it! The longer you are catching the water, the less important the error associated with starting and stopping will be (stopping at 3.5 seconds on one pipe and 3.2 seconds on another give a less representative mix than stopping at 30.5 seconds on one pipe and 30.2 seconds on another).

DataWhen collecting from a stream, face upstream and sample from the upstream side of you. Probes should be placed into flowing water. Probes, especially dissolved oxygen probes, should be stirred constantly when reading if sitting in stagnant water (i.e. dip cup). Some hand-held meters are delicate where the cables meet the body of the meter so avoid dangling the probe where possible.

Record all your data. Here is a sample site report.

4. Water Sampling

Take water samples in order to have a laboratory analysis of your monitoring sites' water quality. Friends of Deckers Creek uses three sample bottles: one for pH, specific conductance, acidity, alkalinity and sulfate; one for total aluminum, total iron, and total manganese (this sample could also be used for total amounts of a number of other chemicals); and one for ferrous iron. The first sample (pH, etc.) receives no preservative. The second sample (metals) is preserved with 2mL of nitric acid or HNO3. The third (ferrous iron) is preserved with 2mL of hydrochloric acid or HCL.
Rinse sample bottles with stream water 3 times including lids. Sample bottles should be labeled with your group's name, date, time, project name, site name and which acid will be placed in after the sample is taken. It helps to have then labeled before approaching the site. Fill sample bottles from the center or near center of the stream at about 60% depth. If sampling pipes, use the"real-time" mixture method described above. Avoid touching the inside of the bottle or cap (wear gloves if you have to). Leave a tiny bit of room to add the appropriate acid to two of the bottles. The goal for the acid-preserved samples is to lower them to a pH of 2.
Store samples in cooler with ice. Samples should be brought to the laboratory as soon as possible (within 72 hours). A chain-of-custody form should be filled out and signed by the monitor and the lab crew. Probes should be stored in solutions according to the maintenance manual.

5. Flow Measurements 

Measuring Flow




Methods for measuring flow vary according to the character of the flow you're measuring. Flow is a function of water volume and velocity. Accurate flow measurements are important because they help watershed groups better understand the impact of a pollution source on water quality. For example, flow measurements are necessary to calculate the acid load in a stream. 

PIPES: Discharge from pipes is measured using a calibrated container and stopwatch.

WEIR: You can measure the flow over the weir using a calibrated container and stop watch. The idea is to get a volume of water flowing in a given time period. You can also measure the height of the water in relation to the weir to get an estimate of flow. Click here for more about this method (word document). Also, find detailed weir construction instructions here and detailed diagrams here (pdf).

 Stream flow measurements are taken using a flow meter. Click here for more about this method (word document).

More resources

Thanks to Sarah and Friends of Deckers Creek for this monitoring demonstration!

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