Volunteer citizen scientists have been monitoring water quality as part of the RiverTrends project for over 35 years. Each month, monitors gear up to collect observational data and measure the trends of their local streams, including air and water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, bacteria, and salinity. These dedicated monitors give us a direct connection to communities we work with watershed-wide, providing invaluable local knowledge and support.

Camille Grabb, RiverTrends monitor

Meet Camille Grabb, volunteer monitor on Mill Creek on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Camille completed a RiverTrends training session in August of 2019 through the Northern Neck Master Naturalists and has been a rock-solid monitor ever since. Read on to learn how Camille’s path led her to the Chesapeake Bay.

“We turned left onto a narrow dirt lane nearly two hours after leaving from our home in a Richmond suburb. The car moved slowly on the little lane as clouds of dust shadowed behind. After a couple of sharp turns around fields and forests, it came into view. East Gascony, my aunt’s childhood home, sat gracefully at the end of the long lane, in a large mowed yard dotted with mature, stately trees. A rope swing hung enticingly from a sturdy branch in an oak near the kitchen door. Beyond was a field of waving wheat, then a row of well-spaced cedars, and then, sparkling like dazzling diamonds on a jeweler’s light blue velvet, my first glimpse of the Chesapeake Bay. Even now, over 60 years later, I remember that first time.

We went often to the Bay after that. My aunt’s home was situated at the mouth of Mill Creek, right where it meets the Bay. Several years later, my aunt and uncle built a cabin on Mill Creek, slightly upstream from her home. Childhood was spent enjoying the water: boating, crabbing, fishing, swimming, sailing on small Sunfish sailboats, water skiing, and exploring coves, beaches, and forests. It was idyllic.

Eventually college, marriage, and careers took me to another “mouth”: Virginia Beach, where the mouth of the Chesapeake entered the Atlantic Ocean. As our children grew, we spent time enjoying the Bay and the ocean, but with our careers, and school and sports for our children, our trips to Mill Creek were sporadic. The seeds were planted in childhood, though; and when one of my first cousins offered to sell us 2½ acres adjacent to her family’s cabin, we jumped at the chance. I had been oyster-gardening with students in our Eco Friends club at the school where I taught, so once we had our dock on Mill Creek, we added a float of oysters here as well. Students checked the salinity and water temperature where our oysters were located at the beach, and we compared that data with what I observed up here. Once we were here full-time, it seemed prudent to extend the water testing beyond what we did for the oysters. I completed the RiverTrends water quality training in August 2019, and now monitor right from our dock.

Camille water skiing on Mill Creek, September 2020

Camille water skiing on Mill Creek, September 2020

There is a Native American adage that says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” For many years we acted like we “inherited” the earth and could do whatever we wanted with our land and water. We now recognize the results of our selfishness: silted water, rampant erosion, declines in oysters and other native species, loss of habitat and ecosystems, and the list goes on. We all have an obligation to try to restore our environment in whatever ways we can. Water quality testing data provides scientists with critical information about sustaining the Bay and its tributaries; not only for us today, but more importantly, for our children and grandchildren.”

Thank you, Camille, for the time you spend collecting data, growing oysters, and educating others to be just as connected to the Bay as you are. Our volunteers inspire us!

Interested in becoming a water quality monitor? Visit the RiverTrends page to learn more.