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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Warm, wet winter is bad news for local water quality in 2020

Watershed Watch program seeks volunteers to monitor ponds, streams, coast
Image result for uri watershed watchThis year’s warm, wet winter will likely lead to an increase in the growth of aquatic weeds in local ponds and lakes and more algae blooms from nutrient-filled runoff washing into water bodies.

That’s according to Elizabeth Herron, director of the University of Rhode Island Watershed Watch Program, which works with hundreds of volunteers to monitor the water quality of more than 220 lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and coastal sites around the region.

“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.”

Not every water body will be negatively affected by the precipitation and temperature, however. Herron said that some sites may actually have improved water quality because the heavy rains will flush contaminants out of the water.


For more than 30 years, the Watershed Watch program has worked with local communities to track the many factors that affect water quality in local water bodies and determine their current conditions.

Thanks to the program, much more is known today about how land use, seasonal weather patterns, climate change and other factors affect local waters in good and bad ways.

The program, one of the longest running citizen science projects in Rhode Island, is now seeking additional volunteers to conduct weekly or biweekly 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 site that they will be in charge of monitoring. Every week or two on a day of their choice, they monitor and test for a number of water quality indicators. 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.

Ponds, lakes and some saltwater sites are monitored at their deepest point, so access to a boat, canoe or kayak is necessary. But few river and stream sites need a boat. Other sites are monitored from the shore or by wading in.

Watershed Watch is sponsored by URI Cooperative Extension in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and about 40 local organizations and communities.

This year the program is also collaborating with the Providence Stormwater Innovation Center at Roger Williams Park to monitor water quality in the park’s ponds to learn if the green infrastructure improvements recently installed there have had the desired effect.

“The city has been proactive at installing best management practices – they installed rain gardens, removed pavement that carries stormwater, and took other steps to stop runoff from rushing into the ponds,” Herron said. 

“We’ve been monitoring the ponds for decades, and we know they’ve been suffering from urban impacts, but we hope that as the stormwater is controlled within the park it will improve water quality.”

Volunteers are needed to monitor water quality in the park, as well as at dozens of other locations around the state.

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.