Volunteer stream monitors in Virginia have been sampling water quality for over 20 years. Over that time, clear patterns regarding water quality have emerged. Thanks to the Virginia Save Our Streams volunteer monitoring program, we have robust, usable data covering Northern Virginia (NOVA) and the mountain range running along the state’s western border. We have a growing network of monitors in the Richmond area and we're working on expanding monitoring throughout central and southern Virginia.
Water Quality in Virginia
While one monitoring session can provide an immediate stream health score, the real power of water quality monitoring is revealed over the long term. With regular monitoring over the course of many years, we can identify areas where water quality needs our attention and where it has improved. The gallery below shows the water quality scores reported by Virginia Save Our Streams volunteers from 2011 to 2021. Scroll through these images to see how our monitoring efforts have expanded in the last ten years and how stream health has changed over time.
COVID-19 presented challenges to hosting VA SOS training and monitoring events and resulted in a drop in data collection in 2020. Thankfully, our dedicated monitors were able to safely return to their stream sites in 2021 to bring data collection back to pre-pandemic levels.
What’s Hurting Water Quality in Virginia?
Many factors can affect stream health scores: acute pollution events like oil spills or active construction, chronic fertilizer runoff, climate change, and development, just to name a few. By observing how water quality changes or remains steady over time, we can start looking for local, regional, and state-wide patterns.
The data collected by Virginia Save Our Streams volunteers shows, without a doubt, that urbanization and development have had a significant impact on the water quality of streams in Virginia. Impervious surfaces like roads and roofs drive tremendous amounts of polluted runoff into gutters, storm drains, streams, and rivers. This water runs untreated into critical sources of drinking water like the Potomac River and reservoirs. Although this water will be treated before it enters people’s homes, some chemical pollutants are difficult to remove.
The map below compares stream health scores from 2021 with a land use map of Virginia. Zoom in to explore how the highly developed areas (in red) are linked to poor stream health scores in areas near Richmond, Roanoke, the NOVA region, etc. The colored dots mark stream monitoring sites, with each color representing a stream health score: Unacceptable (red), Acceptable (green), and Grayzone (grey). From this map, we can see that streams in rural areas tend to be healthier, while streams in urban areas often struggle with poor water quality.
The Izaak Walton League Is Making a Difference
Volunteer stream monitors across Virginia are working with the League's Save Our Streams program to protect and improve water quality in their communities. In the first four months of 2022, 32 new monitors earned their certifications! These clean water heroes include high school and college students, professionals in all stages of their careers, and retirees. They join over 300 other certified stream monitors in Virginia to advocate for common-sense clean water protections across the state.
Below, see how Save Our Streams is expanding across Virginia, check out some volunteer stream monitors in action, and see an example of what YOUR monitoring certification could look like!
What You Can Do
One of the most important takeaways from our stream health maps is that we need more volunteers monitoring in more places. In the past five years, we have been working to expand data collection into the Piedmont region of Virginia. As data collection has increased in the Richmond area, it has become clear that the area struggles with poor stream water quality. How many other regions are suffering from poor water quality, but people there don’t know it yet because their streams are not monitored sufficiently? How are rural areas in the center of the state faring? Virginia Save Our Streams is focused on training, recruiting, and mobilizing volunteers to collect and report this critical data.
Learn how to advocate for clean water in your community
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Learn more about the Virginia Save Our Streams volunteer monitoring program
More about Clean Water in Virginia
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