Gaithersburg, MD – The first Earth Day 50 years ago was the beginning of the citizen science movement. Millions of Americans came together that April not only to demand policymakers act to protect the environment, but to commit themselves to acting locally to protect our air, water, and other natural resources. The Izaak Walton League of America led the nation then in empowering volunteers to test local streams for pollution. Today, the League is launching a nationwide citizen science blitz to document the ongoing threats to the health of our streams and rivers.
Images of burning rivers and trash-choked streams may seem like pages torn from a history book. Indeed, our country has made real progress improving water quality since the 1970s. However, America’s water pollution problems have not been solved – they have evolved.
Today, the greatest threat to clean water is polluted runoff from farm fields, parking lots, industrial sites, and backyards across America. That runoff – much less visible than discharges from a factory pipe – flows unchecked and untreated into our streams and rivers, carrying animal waste, bacteria, cancer-causing chemicals, and other pollutants through our communities.
As sources of pollution become more dispersed, we need to be monitoring water quality in more places. Yet according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost 70% of streams across America are not regularly monitored for pollution, which means most Americans do not know whether local streams are safe or pose a danger to their families. Moreover, of the fraction of streams that are monitored, EPA reports that more than half do not meet safety standards for fishing, swimming, or as sources of drinking water.
We can tackle this water pollution problem by mobilizing a new generation of citizen scientists. The Izaak Walton League’s citizen science blitz allows anyone to get involved and includes resources for every American to learn about water quality in their community. People of all ability levels can take action for water quality by:
- Taking the first step with a Stream Selfie. Today, April 22, the League is launching a nationwide Stream Selfie blitz to highlight the condition of America’s streams. At the most basic level, solving water pollution problems starts with people simply looking at the conditions of local streams: is trash common, do pipes dump into them, does the water have an oily sheen? Anyone can document these problems – or their absence – with a selfie, then go to streamselfie.org to share what they found. A simple selfie can be the first evidence of a problem and the first step toward a solution.
- Conducting simple tests of stream health. While photos provide some important clues, it is imperative to directly test water quality in many more streams nationwide. Volunteers can accurately assess the health of streams with simple chemical tests, such as using paper strips to measure pH, nitrates, and chloride. The League offers a one-stop resource for these tests – including test kits, how-to videos, and staff support for volunteers – at iwla.org/chemical.
- Staying informed about water quality issues. It was not an accident that many of our nation’s most important environmental protection laws passed in the years immediately following the first Earth Day. It was the direct result of an informed public demanding action. Today, the League is committed to keeping Americans informed about stream health through the Clean Water Hub website (cleanwaterhub.org). The Hub is the first nationwide website designed specifically to make volunteer-collected water quality results readily available to the public. As volunteers monitor more streams in more places, the Hub will ensure people living in those communities have understandable and actionable information about water quality trends.
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America protects America’s outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation.