Rhody Today: Curiosity Ignited by National Recognition of URI Watershed Watch

URI Watershed Watch (a program set up by the University of Rhode Island) has received recent national recognition for its efforts to protect and improve the quality of Rhode Island’s water resources. The program relies on a team trained of volunteers to monitor and collect information about the health of different water bodies in the state. URI Watershed Watch can detect trends and changes in water quality by regularly monitoring these bodies. It also helps identify possible sources of pollution. These data are then shared with regulators, policymakers and the public to help them make more informed decisions about watershed management.

The recognition of URI’s Watershed Watch at the national level highlights the program’s success and dedication to promoting sustainable water resource management. The program’s commitment to involving citizen scientists in environmental surveillance not only contributes to scientific knowledge of the state’s quality water, but empowers local communities to actively take part in the preservation and protection of their environment. Programs like URI’s Watershed Watch are vital to ensuring that our water resources remain healthy and sustainable in the face of increasing climate change and pollution.

The national recognition of URI Watershed Watch is a testament to its important contributions towards protecting and improving the water quality in Rhode Island. URI Watershed Watch, with its team of volunteers who are committed to citizen science and their dedication to scientific research, bridges the gap effectively between scientific research in Rhode Island and community engagement. The program empowers local communities by providing data on water quality and thereby helps to make better watershed management decisions.

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 10, 2023 – The University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch Program recently received the 2023 National Water Quality Monitoring Council’s Vision Award. The award is presented to groups that have shown exceptional vision and cooperation within the water quality monitoring field in order to improve management and protect local aquatic resources.

URI’s Watershed Watch The North American Lake Management Society presented this award at its national conference in 2009.

Presenting its 2023 Vision AwardThe Society called URI’s Watershed Watch Program a leader across New England as well as across the country, describing it as an exemplary program for water monitoring.

Watershed Watch is now in its third decade of providing information on the quality of surface water in lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, streams, and the marine environment across southern New England. (photo/J. Sawyers)

Watershed Watch at URI has trained and partnered with more than 100 organizations since 1988. The program, currently led by Elizabeth Herron, maintains long-term partnerships with the state of Rhode Island, 14 municipalities, 23 environmental and sporting organizations, one Native American tribe, 14 lake associations/management districts, and six national organizations. Watershed Watch has been a leader in the United States for over two decades, training and connecting volunteer program leaders from across the country.

The program began with 14 lakes, but has since expanded to include freshwater and saltwater ponds and reservoirs, rivers and streams, bays and surfing beaches. The water quality is being monitored by trained volunteers across the state. This includes Herring Pond near Burrillville and the Great Salt Pond at Block Island. More than 400 volunteers collected data on water quality at over 250 sites across Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York in 2022. Watershed Watch staff enlists volunteers to help track cyanobacteria, and also support specialized projects such as monitoring aquatic invasive species and stormwater.

Watershed Watch has had a lasting impact on the environment and communities. For more than 30 years, it has trained and supported volunteers to conduct scientifically sound monitoring of water across hundreds of sites. Monitoring has been used to inform research and policies and has benefited the environment, individuals and communities.

Elizabeth Herron’s program director was delighted to hear of URI Watershed Watch being recognized, and credited the vision that Art Gold The following are some examples of how to get started: Linda Green URI Cooperative Extension has continued to support this program.

“We have access to top-notch research equipment through Cooperative Extension,” Herron says. “Being connected with the University of Rhode Island means our volunteers get involved in research and education.”

Watershed Watch collaborates with several nonprofits, including the Wood-Pawcatuck River Association (WPRA), Narrow River Preservation Association (NRPA), Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC), Save Bristol Harbor and the Salt Ponds Coalition. Watershed Watch works with a few groups that are not within state boundaries. “Watersheds don’t care about regional boundaries,” Herron laughs.

Herron explains that URI is a leader in the field for volunteer water monitoring, and has had a significant impact, despite the small size of the state.

“We have a little history of big programs,” She says

She acknowledges, however, that it is difficult to promote a program which, by its very nature, repeats the same thing. “Often funding organizations want to fund the new and interesting, exciting and innovative,” She says “It can be hard to get funding to do the same things over and over, which is what water monitoring really is.”

Finding the right support can be difficult, but it is important to keep repeating this.

“Over time you build your data sets,” Herron says. “Now 35-plus years later we can detect trends that 10 years ago we would not have been able to. With 10 to 35 years of data, we can observe the impacts of climate change and help mitigate its influence on bodies of water.”

Watershed Watch, now in its 36th season, provides information about the surface water quality at lakes, ponds and reservoirs as well as rivers, streams, and marine environments throughout southern New England. Click here to find out more https://web.uri.edu/watershedwatch/.