uri watershed

URI's Watershed Watch program, which monitors the water quality of over 220 lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and coastal sites around the region, is now seeking volunteers to assist with routine water quality testing May to October.      


KINGSTON – The University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Watershed Watch program, which monitors over 220 lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and coastal sites around the region, is now seeking volunteers to assist with routine water quality testing. Since 1988, Watershed Watch has relied on citizen volunteers to assist scientists with monitoring the health of the state’s water bodies, and producing data that illustrates the impact of factors such as land use, climate change and seasonal weather patterns. 

Currently, URI Watershed Watch Director, Elizabeth Herron, believes that the warm and wet winter the state is experiencing could have a negative effect on the local watershed.

“Since waters are warming up earlier in the season, the algae blooms start earlier and keep on going later in the year,” she said, “and the invasive aquatic plants that we didn’t think would succeed this far north aren’t being killed off by the winter cold. Some of our common plants are already green and growing, which is a little frightening.”

Narragansett Bay has experienced a number of bay closures due to harmful algae blooms in recent years. In 2016, the presence of a toxic algae bloom which could cause brain damage and memory loss in humans caused the state to close portions of the bay to shellfishing for the first time in more than 40 years.     

“An algae bloom is the result of the perfect set of conditions for that particular algae,” said URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor Tatiana Rynearson. “Algae are like plants; they photosynthesize, so they need light and they need nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous.” 

Portions of Narragansett Bay closed again in 2017 due to the bloom of toxic algae, known as “pseudo-nitzchia.” 

According to Herron, not every water body will experience a negative effect from the recent winter weather, however. Some testing sites in the watershed may actually see improved water quality due to the abundance of rain flushing out contaminates, says the program director. 

The Watershed Watch program is one of the state’s longest-running citizen-led science projects. It is now seeking volunteers to assist with weekly or bi-weekly water quality monitoring from May to October. Classroom training for new Watershed Watch volunteers will take place at URI’s Kingston campus on Saturday, March 28 at 9 a.m. It will be repeated on Thursday, April 2 at 6 p.m. Field training will be conducted in April.

Volunteers are matched to a specific testing site, meaning river watchers in many instances end up being responsible for testing water quality every week or two on a day of their choice at one of their favorite spots in the watershed. On several designated dates, the volunteers collect water samples that are brought to URI to be analyzed for nutrients, acidity and bacteria.

“Many volunteers work in teams to share their monitoring duties,” said Herron. “Monitoring can also be an enjoyable family activity for parents and their children, and teens can use it to gain required community service hours.” 

While monitoring of ponds and lakes will require a boat, canoe or kayak (water samples in these water bodies are taken at their deepest point), few rivers and streams need boat access. 

For more information or to register for the training sessions, contact Elizabeth Herron at 401-874-4552 or at eherron@uri.edu. Visit the program’s website at web.uri.edu/watershedwatch for detailed information about the program and its list of 2020 monitoring locations.

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