For the last four years, I’ve coordinated RiverTrends, the Alliance’s community-based water quality monitoring program. I provide training to volunteers all over the Chesapeake Bay portion of Virginia to use accessible water monitoring equipment. This program provides vital water quality data that is used for education and advocacy in local communities, and supplements state and federal datasets. When working with new partners, it takes a lot of time behind the scenes before we are able to actually get out into the stream, but the simplified version for a new monitoring group looks something like this:

  1. A community group or local watershed organization reaches out for assistance in getting a monitoring program started.
  2. We work with the group to determine if RiverTrends is the right fit for them, based on their data needs. If not, we connect them to a program that is!
  3. We collaboratively identify public (or occasionally private) monitoring locations for year-round monthly monitoring.
  4. We provide equipment and training for volunteers on how to monitor, and then they can start collecting data.

Students and faculty at Bowie State University in Maryland attend their first training session outside on the Bowie State campus in October 2020.

Step 4 is where the fun really begins! Our trainings typically take around four hours, teaching folks how to properly use thermometers, calibrate a pH meter, complete a Winkler titration to measure dissolved oxygen, use a refractometer to measure salinity, fill up a turbidity tube, and inoculate a bacteria sample. To ensure we are collecting high quality data, we train all of our volunteers to use very specific protocols to enforce best practices both in the field and when processing their samples.

New monitors with Reston Association, a homeowner association, attend a RiverTrends training session at the central services building in Reston, VA in May of 2023.

Training events are some of my favorites in my role with the Alliance. They provide a chance to educate community members, learn about their personal connections to their waterways, and make science and data collection fun and engaging! Training days are also some of my most challenging days as we strive to meet all of our volunteers where they are, which varies widely on their level of watershed education and comfort with field work. It takes a lot of flexibility and adaptability to smoothly run a volunteer training and sustain high volunteer retention rates.

The Rockbridge Water Monitors gathered at a volunteer’s house for a recertification session and lunch in Lexington, VA in June of 2023.

As the year wound down, I took some time to reflect on trainings we’ve hosted over the last few years as we dove headfirst into the pandemic, adapted our training processes, and slowly waded our way back out. Looking back on these photos, what stood out to me is the ability of our incredible volunteers to collect high-quality monitoring data from anywhere they may land. Whether it’s an outdoor training on a windy day, someone’s kitchen or living room who graciously opened their home for a training session, behind their laptop during an evening webinar, or the back of their truck, our volunteers make science happen anywhere!

Bill Blair, a monitor with the Northern Neck Master Naturalists, shows off his DIY’ed pole used to lower his bucket down into the river to collect his sample at a training event at a pavilion in Machicomoco State Park, VA in June of 2023.

RiverTrends currently has over 130 trained volunteers collecting data on a monthly basis throughout the watershed. We ask a lot of our volunteers, and we want to extend a huge thank you to all of our volunteers who have stuck with us as we have navigated the past few years. We couldn’t do this important work to help restore the Chesapeake Bay and our waterways without you!

The James River Master Naturalist chapter gathered in Powhatan, VA for their annual recertification event.

From water quality monitoring, to planting trees, maintaining gardens, or picking up trash, there are plenty of opportunities to help clean up your community! Join us this spring for a wide variety of events, including Treelay, our 24-hour tree planting relay.