Posted by: norstarnewengland | May 7, 2016

SciFri Take a Sample: Water Sampling on the Charles River

This challenge allows me to feature some of my long time citizen science involvements.  For over twenty years, I have been sampling water for two (yes, two) projects.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that the programs have monthly schedules, neither have a sampling date during the challenge period.  However, sampling goes year round for one, so it should count.

How Sampling is Used – It is impossible to constantly monitor all of the water in a river system all of the time.  In these programs, relatively long-term trends are being monitored that don’t require immediate actions such as closing beaches. The amount of water used in the sampling must be large enough to provide meaningful results, but small enough to analyze the samples in a meaningful time.  Thus, both programs sample on a monthly basis at a specified number of locations each month.

The first is the Charles River Watershed (CRWA) Monthly Water Monitoring Program, which I have been involved for over 20 years.  At this point, I have made over 200 samples for this program!


An example  of a sampling bottle and data sheet used.

The Charles River is the well-known river that runs between Boston and Cambridge.  The Charles has had a long history of use and abuse – inspiring a song that has become the unofficial anthem about Boston.  In 1995, CRWA started a sampling program involving a network of volunteers who arrive at an assigned location and take a sample in a bottle and take basic measurements (temperature, depth).  I came on board at the end of that year.  The web page for the program states that this is one of the oldest water sampling programs in the nation.  The program provides CRWA a way to assess the health of the river to set priorities on projects to focus on, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses this data to assess the annual report card grade on the water quality.  The sampling program has been a direct factor in improving the overall health of the river to the point where parts are even swimmable again.

I have a partner meet me every month at a quiet location in the suburbs.  The spot is among the cleanest on the river.  Hopefully, April’s results will come out before the end of the challenge.  It’s nice to be part of such a venerable program that has demonstrated how such citizen science programs can actuate real change.








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