Stream Monitoring: In Depth

How the Program Works

Volunteer Stream Monitor Training

New Stream Monitors learn the fundamentals of field techniques and “bug” identification during the outdoor component of volunteer training

Each spring, we invite interested members, friends and the public-at-large to become involved in our stream monitoring program. Volunteers attend a training session that includes classroom lessons and an on-the-water demonstration with practice time. Volunteers learn how to conduct a visual assessment of a stream segment, how to properly take measurements of stream flow and other conditions, how to collect a stream sample and how to complete the necessary paperwork.

Volunteers typically work in teams, with two to four individuals per team. Each team selects the site(s) it wishes to monitor, and we pair up volunteers according to the streams they are most interested in studying. Teams select the date and time for their monitoring session within the period between June 15 and June 30 (this time frame represents typical summer stream flow). We provide all necessary equipment.

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Once at their site, volunteers follow the protocol they learned at the training session. The protocol is derived from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Rapid Bioasssessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers: Periphyton, Benthic Macroinvertebrates, and Fish Second Edition. Monitoring each site usually takes from one to one-and-a-half hours. Our quality assurance/quality control measures are rigorous — they include an annual review of practices, thorough training of volunteers and audits of data and procedures by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The Components of Stream Monitoring

Visual Assessments: Volunteers assess and record a wide range of information such as stream characteristics, weather conditions, land use patterns, water uses and the suitability of the surrounding habitat for wildlife. Volunteers also measure air and water temperature and calculate stream flow.

Biological Assessments: To collect a biological sample, volunteers use a net to perform a “kick” in the stream, disturbing the benthic habitat in a particular riffle so that all cobble, sand and debris flow into the net. Volunteers sort through the collected debris to remove all benthic macroinvertebrates and preserve them in a jar of ethyl alcohol. The preserved specimens are sent to a certified laboratory to identify the benthic macroinvertebrates down to the genus level. By evaluating the species richness and ratios, scientists can assign each site a High Gradient Macroinvertebrate Index score and rating (excellent, good, fair or poor). For more information on how the impairment scores are calculated please follow this link.

Chemical Testing: If a site is found to be impaired for two years in a row, we test for pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and other hard metals and organic compounds that may impact water quality.

If you have questions about our Stream Monitoring program, would like to become a volunteer or want to suggest a stream site that we should consider adding to our sampling efforts, please contact RHA’s Water Quality Program Manager Angela Gorczyca at agorczyca@raritanheadwaters.org.