Home / Blogs / Streamside Science: How We Monitor our Waterways
November 6, 2023
Clean water and resilient landscapes, cared for by all the people who live, work, and play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That’s the Alliance’s vision, and we are working on another piece of the puzzle that makes that vision clearer: community-based stream monitoring.
As the Alliance and our partners continue to invest in on-the-ground conservation practices, we also want to collect evidence to show that those practices really are protecting and enhancing our watershed. Do our streams have better habitat for creatures in the water and on the streambank? Can we collect that data in a way that gives community members the opportunity to explore and learn about their local streams? These are the questions we set out to answer through our Community-Based Restoration Monitoring Protocol.
Looking through stream viewers see the types of rock, sand, and silt present on the stream bed
The Community-Based Restoration Monitoring Protocol was developed by the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative (CMC), Stroud Water Research Center, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). CMC seeks to integrate community and volunteer monitoring data into the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership, which tracks overall Chesapeake Bay health. We want monitoring to capture stream health across the watershed, in addition to the health of the Bay itself. CMC includes five service providers who work with individual monitoring groups across the watershed:
Alliance staff records and discusses the data gathered streamside.
The CMC team has established monitoring protocols and quality assurance procedures that enable all high-quality data, including data collected by volunteers, local governments, and NGOs – to be used together across the region. The CMC works with over 100 partner organizations to integrate data into the Chesapeake Bay Program. To learn more about this initiative, visit the CMC’s website.
Community-Based Restoration Monitoring Protocol is a new monitoring protocol and program, with goals to:
Currently, the Community Monitoring program is collecting data on streams where riparian forest buffers will be planted, stream restoration will be implemented, or a dirt or gravel road will be constructed. These three conservation practices aim to improve the health of waterways and their habitats by reducing erosion, stabilizing the stream bed and banks, and establishing vegetation. In the case of riparian forest buffers, this practice also filters out nutrients that can cause pollution, shades and cools the stream for organisms that need cool temperatures, and provides leaf litter that becomes the basis of the steam’s food web.
Generalized food web for linked stream riparian ecosystems (Image from Baxter et al 2005)
Visual/Physical Assessment: Monitors look at the stream bank geometry (shape and size), to see how stable the bank is and how well the stream is connected to a floodplain.
Measuring bank angle
We also look through the black stream viewers to see the stream bed. The types of rock, sand, and silt present on the stream bed affect the kind of invertebrates that live there.
Through the stream viewer
Water Quality Indicators: Monitors take readings of water temperature and water clarity. Many organisms, such as PA’s native brook trout, need cool, clear streams to thrive.
Taking water temperature
Biology: Monitors take samples of aquatic bugs that live on stream bottoms – benthic macroinvertebrates.
These bugs like to live in well-aerated, rocky habitat – riffles!
We then send the samples to a lab where entomologists classify what Family they belong to.
It’s great to see a damselfly nymph. This one is in the Coenagrionidae family. They are sensitive to pollution so they are indicators of stream health.
Riparian Zone: Monitors count the number of trees and shrubs before and after the project. We’ll keep track of the tree sizes over time, and keep an eye out for invasive vines, shrubs, and grasses that could harm a newly planted buffer.
Measuring the riparian transect
Standard Photographs: Monitors take pictures at specific points along the stream, which will eventually create a time-lapse photo book of change over time.
Left, Before the tree planting in October 2022 and right, after the tree planting in September 2023
Most of the pictures in this post are from our monitoring session on a Quarryville farm. The PA Agriculture Program staff have been working with this producer for about two years, providing education on conservation practices, applying for funding for his project, and connecting him to specialists who can design the practices.
To work with the Alliance, this producer agreed to implement a riparian forest buffer. Over 10 acres of trees were planted along his stream, 35 feet wide on each side, funded by USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). This buffer not only excludes livestock from the streambank area, which protects the streambank from erosion and trampling, but it also provides habitat for stream species, like the damselfly above.
Pennsylvania staff found jewelweed, which came in handy around the stinging nettles. Jewelweed is a natural remedy for irritating plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and stinging nettle.
There is still work to do, though. We found many crayfish in this stream, which are very pollution-tolerant species. In the future, we hope to see more sensitive species like brook trout and mayflies. We will be back at this stream and the other five farms we are monitoring over the next five years.
One of our core goals is to engage and educate the community about the health of our local streams and how to assess them. We will be training groups of new volunteers over winter 2023-2024, and would love for you to join us!
If you know of any groups interested in being a part of our program, please contact Cathleen Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Vision Statement promises clean water and resilient landscapes cared for by all the people who live, work, and play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With your support, we can deliver on that promise daily through a robust range of programs and initiatives that bring collaborative and action-oriented solutions upstream to the source of the issues.
On November 17th, the Alliance is participating in the Lancaster ExtraGive. By making a gift during the ExtraGive, you allow us to plant more trees in our watershed, engage more members of our communities, and create clean water for all.
Agriculture Projects Coordinator