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Water Monitoring

Biological Monitoring

Chemical Monitoring

Physical Monitoring


Developing a monitoring plan

Decide who will monitor the water

Once you have decided to monitor a stream, watershed, or other aquatic body, it is important to determine exactly who will be doing the monitoring.  Will you hire professionals or ask for volunteers?  Volunteer monitoring has many advantages, it is educational, economical and a valuable source of help.  Professional monitoring is often still necessary even if volunteer monitoring is used.  However, volunteer monitoring can provide:

Define the scale

It is very important to define the size of the watershed that you want to monitor.  Make sure to choose something large enough to make a difference, but small enough to be manageable.  Consider the amount of time and money available to the monitoring project.  It will be needed to buy supplies, pay professionals and manage the monitoring.

Set Goals

Find out the background on the area you want to monitor.  Is there any data already available?  Are there water quality standards in place?  Are they being met?  What are the uses, values and threats in your watershed?  What are your watershed management goals?  Are there any questions to answer through monitoring?

Determine the indicators to monitor

Indicators are measurable features that can provide insight into current conditions and trends.  The major categories are: Chemical, Physical, and Biological.  Further information on each of these categories is available by following the links.  It is also a good idea to track land use and known pollution sources.  Some commonly monitored indicators are pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, water color, and flow rate.

Determine data quality objectives

This is very important if many people will be involved in data collection.  Be sure to establish data quality objectives (DQOs).  This ensures that data will be consistent and useful for end collection and analysis.  Important DQO considerations are:

Decide on methods

Once you have established which indicators to monitor and DQOs, you can select the methods for sampling and analyzing the indicators.  The methods you choose are linked to the indicators that you would like to monitor.  Physical monitoring can be done through visual surveys or field measurements.  These methods are good for recording indicators such as bank erosion, habitat characteristics, sedimentation, water color and flow rate.

Chemical monitoring can also be done two ways.  The method of testing is usually dependent upon the indicator chosen.  Commonly tested indicators, such as pH and dissolved oxygen can be done as field measurements.  It is possible to purchase electronic testing equipment designed for field use that allows these measurements to be done quickly and easily.  Other indicators may also be tested, however these tests often require water sampling and analysis.  In these tests, water samples are retrieved and sent to a lab for analysis.

Biological monitoring is often a combination of field and lab work.  Samples may be collected in the field and analyzed there or taken back to a lab for identification and classification.  Macro invertebrate surveys, or biotic indexes, are commonly used to comment on water quality.  Many methods are available for this testing.  Often the most accurate results are obtained from employing a variety of sampling methods.

When selecting methods, be sure to indicate in you DQOs how many replicates to obtain as well as any special procedures to be followed in obtaining samples.

Determine monitoring sites

Where monitoring sites are placed is based on the kind of picture you would like to obtain of the watershed.  Placing sites equally spaced between the headwaters and the mouth of your stream can reveal a baseline picture, however, closely spaced monitoring sites upstream and downstream of a certain site can be used to determine the extent of human impact.

Some suggestions to follow when choosing monitoring sites:

          Using the previously drawn topographical map  of the watershed, determine which sites would be the most beneficial.

          Field-check each site for accessibility and safety.  Avoid slippery and eroding banks.

          Obtain land-owner permission for sampling.  Avoid sites where permission can't be obtained.

          Photograph each site.  This is helpful for identification if multiple volunteer groups will be monitoring the site as well as providing before and after pictures for rehabilitation operations.

          Map each site

          Make a list of selected sites including the rationale for choosing them

Decide when to monitor

Determine how frequently monitoring must be conducted.  Baseline information is best obtained by sampling regularly while human impact is often most noticeable before and after storm events.  It is best to remain consistent with sampling times during the day as some indicator levels, such as dissolved oxygen fluctuate through the day.  Macro invertebrates are often most plentiful in the spring and the fall.  Be aware of the type of watershed profile that needs to be obtained and tailor the monitoring program to fit the need.


Most importantly!!!  Do not forget to document your monitoring plan!  Keep clear, concise records detailing the monitoring plan for the watershed, including the indicators, methods and analysis used.  It is also important to have clear records of the monitoring results from data collection.  Overtime, the data can be compared to the goals originally outlined by the monitoring plan.  Clear documentation will allow you to compare the progress of the monitoring plan and revise the goals and/or methods if needed.  Documentation is also a good resource for public outreach, providing solid evidence and support to rehabilitation programs.


For more information on developing and implementing a monitoring plan obtain Designing Your Monitoring Program: A Technical Handbook for Community-Based Monitoring in Pennsylvania prepared by River Network and PA DEP Bureau of Watershed Management, Citizen's Volunteer Monitoring Program.