Monitoring 101

Getting Started with Stream Monitoring

You don’t need a background in science or expensive equipment to be a volunteer stream monitor. Here are some steps and resources to help you get started.

  1. Find a Local Chapter: Many volunteer monitoring groups are active around the country. See if there is one near you that you can join and perhaps expand if it’s in a neighboring community. Start by checking with your local Izaak Walton League chapter and look for local groups through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Surf Your Watershed page. Another helpful EPA resource is the National Directory of Volunteer Monitoring Groups.

  2. Equipment List: If you are starting your own monitoring effort from scratch, you will need a few items to ensure the best results. We’ve done the leg work for you and compiled an SOS Monitoring Equipment page. Whether you are testing the rocky or muddy bottom of a stream or measuring the chemical components of the water, we’ve got you covered.

  3. Scope the Site: Finding the right location can affect your findings, so monitor just upstream or downstream from an area that might interfere with your work, such as a construction site. To pinpoint possible sources of pollution, monitor upstream or downstream of each tributary flowing into the stream. And always ask permission to walk through private property to test a stream.

  4. Mark Your Site: You should monitor at the same location every time to accurately track changes in water quality, so it’s important to record your location by landmarks or with a GPS unit. This doesn’t just help you remember where you’ve monitored. It also helps government officials pinpoint your location if you find a problem.

  5. Get Started: Now that you know the basics, let’s get wet! To start, download the Save Our Streams Monitoring Forms. You’ll find instructions for scooping up stream-dwelling critters, testing chemical components, and making visual observations. For help identifying stream critters, download our Aqua Bugs app. It’s free and a lot of fun!
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