**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
The Coastal Watershed Council hosts two related programs. First Flush aims to determine land pollution running into Monterey Bay by sampling storm drain runoff during the first rainfall event of the season. First Flush tests for several parameters, adding others as needed: water temperature, electrical conductivity, pH, and transparency. They also send samples to a lab to measure bacteria (E.coli, enterococcus, total coliform), nutrients (nitrate, ortho) total suspended solids, metals (copper, lead, zinc), and hardness. Urban Watch looks at air and water temperature, specific conductivity, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen (in creeks), total dissolved solids, salinity and pH. In the field, Urban Watch analyzes, chlorine, detergent (storm drains only), odor, and color. In addition, to in-field analyses, Urban Watch sends monthly lab samples to measure bacteria and nutrients, and once a season to measure copper.
The Coastal Watershed Council works to make sure that volunteers get a variety of experiences from their citizen science activities. This means participating in different kinds of programs and across different teams within each program and across multiple field sites.
Many of CWC’s volunteers are motivated by the chance to learn new things and gain some field experience, especially volunteers from local colleges, who step into roles of more responsibility sometimes as interns. The CWC also puts effort into maintaining strong connections with the volunteers, expressing how important they are to the mission of the organization. They do this through one-on-one relationship-building and volunteer parties.
Meeting the Mission by Balancing Goals
The CWC mission is “to preserve and protect coastal watersheds through community stewardship, education, and monitoring”. CWC achieves this mission through educational and stewardship programs that engage students and communities. First Flush, Urban Watch, and Snapshot Day are all citizen-science monitoring programs designed to help the CWC achieve all three parts of its mission by inspiring volunteers, engaging school groups, and creating useful data for water quality managers, respectively.
Data Types Good for a Citizen Science Approach
Volunteers at the Coastal Watershed Council demonstrate that complicated or technical protocols can be successfully completed by non-professionals – like those involving sensitive sensors. However, these volunteers have limited time to commit, so the question to ask is perhaps not ‘what can citizen scientists monitor?’ but ‘how often can citizen scientists collect data?’.
Yet, even while citizens can do just about anything, some methodologies are harder than others. For example, to conduct clean sampling as required by the Environmental Protection Agency, volunteers must follow very specific water quality protocols. Generally, in a pool of volunteers, some will be more detail-oriented than others, skilled at observing, or more familiar with technology, and can more successfully complete the complex methodologies than others. Coastal Watershed Council tries to pair veterans with new volunteers to account for some of these differences, and impresses upon every volunteer the importance of an organized, detailed data sheet, including metadata.
First Flush and Urban Watch (coastal watershed council) have a number of student volunteers that participate in their programs. Each of these programs provides opportunities to all volunteers for learning about the importance of water quality, public health concerns, and what they can do to improve local water quality.
First Flush data follows the Water Quality Objectives formed by the Central Coast Ambient Monitoring Program (CCAMP) and contributes to their database of information tracking water quality in the region.
The Coastal Watershed Council also holds a contract with the Agricultural Land Base Training Program to help with their wetland restoration efforts, monitoring changes in water quality after restoration and switching farmers to organic methods.
State managers used data from the public database to determine local 303(d) listing – that is, impaired water bodies as determined through water quality measurements. City and county partners also download and use the data, especially to determine which areas are safe for swimming and other water sports.
The CWC is part of a national network of water quality monitoring groups and contributes its data to databases that allow for larger-scale scientific analysis. They used to upload their data to CCAMP and are now using CEDEN. Both feed into an EPA database.
verification of data quality
First Flush and Urban Watch use several different laboratories to verify their water quality measurements. Since First Flush and Urban Watch follow the standardized protocols for water quality established by the EPA, the methods are essentially pre-verified by professionals – and professionals who think about data in a management-applicable way.
raw data transparency and access
After each season comes to a close, Coastal Watershed Council posts their data online and issues a press release so that the public knows it is available. It’s hard to know who downloads the data, as it is anonymous, but it is downloaded each year, mostly by students and local partners in city and county government. While the raw data is available and utilized, the CWC also produces report cards summarizing the findings in a more publicly-accessible way, such as students working on school projects.
clarity of communications
The CWC website contains region-specific information and links to the broader network of water quality groups of which they are a part. All steps of the monitoring effort, from planning to data analysis, are transparent. Since CWC also promotes watershed education in other programs outside its monitoring efforts, there are also many chances to learn what the data mean, how to read scientific reports, and other environmental science basics.
willingness and capability to adapt methods
The CWC is sensitive to local concerns and adds to the standard protocols at the request of city managers.
The CWC has 4 employees and a handful of interns each summer, and is generally in a good place in terms of people wanting to use their data. However, their data-heavy program requires some extra support that is, at times, hard to come by. A full-time data management person would be helpful, to manage the large quantity of data produced by volunteers, coordinate quality control and quality assurance checkpoints, and oversee interns doing the data entry.
Looking Toward the Future
Increased monitoring, education and stewardship has the potential to improve water quality in the watershed. New management issues and recreational opportunities arising in the watershed make the monitoring information that CWC produces all the more relevant and necessary for new applications. First Flush and Urban Watch will be there to track new restoration initiatives and shifts in practices of the local farming community, connecting land and sea.
UPDATE: This post has been modified from its original version to reflect clarifications and corrections suggested by Coastal Watershed Council staff. (many thanks for the help!)