USA Volunteer Water Monitoring Network

Creating a Volunteer Monitoring Program



From: “Steven Witmer”
Sent: Friday, February 13, 2004 11:28 AM
Subject: [volmonitor] Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Greetings Everyone,

The municipality I work for is looking at facilitating the creation of a new volunteer water quality monitoring group. The hope is that if an effective group of volunteers can be put together, it will be a cost-effective way of gathering data on water quality in and around the community, and also assist in monitoring outfalls and for illicit dumping, assist with public education, and so on.

What I’d like is some advice from folks who have been involved with the creation of such groups, or running such groups, or for that matter, anyone who has been involved in a monitoring group that would like to share some advice or suggestions.

One question I specifically have is (though of course any suggestions are appreciated, not just to this question): how to generate interest and recruit new volunteers in order to get the group operational (if only two volunteers sign up in the next six months, that’s going to be pretty thin resources to base a monitoring program on).

A little background on our community, if it will help – We are in the Midwest, with one of the state’s major rivers forming the eastern border of town and a Corp of Engineers reservoir along the northeast border that is open to the public for recreation (fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, etc.). The population is currently about 10,000, but it is part of a larger metro area with a total population of about 350,000. It’s a rapidly growing community (population has increased approximately 40% in the past ten years, and is still growing at about the same pace). We are also a new NPDES Phase II community (permit still undergoing review, but likely to go into effect this year).

Any information folks wish to share is appreciated.




(Note: some responses are missing from this string)

Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 12:54:08 -0500
From: Steven Witmer
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Thanks so much for the replies so far! I’ll provide a little more information.

Kristine is correct – we’re in Iowa, and I am an IOWATER volunteer (which is why this task has largely devolved onto me – I’m the only trained volunteer water monitor on staff). I have arranged for an IOWATER training to take place in our community in April, and hopefully will have a newspaper announcement on it in the next week or so (I’m meeting with the reporter this afternoon) as well as a notice in next month’s city newsletter. I’ve posted a flyer at city hall on the bulletin board and also put a notice in our water department where water customers can see it. And of course the IOWATER program has it on their website and a number of organizations across the state have links to their site.

The net result of that, so far (over the month or so), has been that the training is half-filled (maximum 30 participants), but only 4 of the 15 are Johnston residents. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, and I’m excited to have gotten statewide interest in attending the training. But on the other hand I’m hoping to attract more community residents – the intention is, after all, to try to get a core of trained local volunteers.

I’ve been monitoring in town myself since I became an IOWATER volunteer last spring, and I am working with the county extension on a water quality project in one of our newer neighborhoods that has a nutrient problem in the local park pond (the pond also serves as a stormwater detention pond,and lawn runoff has resulted in nutrient enrichment that has cause vegetation in the pond to grow out of control).

Steven Witmer
Planning Assistant
City of Johnston


Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 12:01:42 -0500
From: Nancy Hadley
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

After some false starts we started a volunteer based monitoring program in fall 2002. We actually started it in Jan 2002 but didnt get much in the way of participation until fall 2002 when we highlighted National Water Monitoring Day. We have some faithful regulars and some others who tend to promise more than they deliver. There is also quite a bit of turnover due to the use of students. Therefore we are constantly recruitng and training new volunteers to fill these gaps. Here are some suggestions for initial recruitment:
Find some established groups with compatible interests (environment, land use) and target their membership
Suggestions might be Sierra Club, Audubon, any local land trusts or environmental action groups, Scouts, community groups near your proposed monitoring sites, etc.)
Do not start recruiting until you are ready to deliver. Nothing turns off the volunteers more than being told we will get back to you when we are ready to start.
Provide plenty of support in the way of training, etc.
Provide feedback. Our volunteers enter data online and can immediately graph results and compare sites.
Offer refresher training regularly.

Nancy Hadley
SCORE project manager
Marine Resources Research Institute
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
PO Box 12559
217 Fort Johnson Road
Charleston, SC 29412
(843) 953-9841
(843) 953-9820 (fax)


From: mark a kuechenmeister []
Sent: Friday, February 13, 2004 11:04 PM
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Go to the Missouri stream team website and there you can find tons of info on volunteering monitoring. In Missouri there are over 2400 Stream Teams with over 48,000 volunteers working with their adopted streams. Hope this helps you out.

Monitoring and helping
Maline Creek. for
over six yrs.
your friend
Mark K.


Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 13:37:59 -0500
From: Bob Carlson
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Dear Steve

You’ve gotten some great advice so far. You may have some extra challenges getting volunteers since you are looking for volunteers on specific waterbodies. I did a survey of Dip-In volunteers that suggested that the majority of volunteers monitor, and continue to monitor, because of some sense of ownership or involvement in the monitored waterbody. You might look to residents near the waterbody for help. We found that another group of volunteers are monitoring in order to protect their environment or monitor as a matter of civic duty. Your advertisements might focus on why you need the monitoring done.

I would certainly invite you to make a focus event around the Great North American Secchi Dip-In this July. Programs use this event to attract media and public attention to their program and to the environmental problems in their area. You can see how some programs have used the Dip-In as an event at our website (below). We have had coverage in Polk County, IA since 1996 and would welcome your contribuitions in the future. IOWater is a major contributor to our database, both with Secchi disk readings and with turbidity tubes and turbidity meters.

You might also start posting the data that has been gathered. A weekly or monthly article in the local paper showing the data, and the data gaps, might catch people’s attention. People really like to see that their data are being used for some worthwhile purpose.

Bob Carlson Phone: (330) 672-3992
Dept Biological Sciences FAX: (330) 672-3713
Kent State University E-mail:
Kent OH 44242


Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 12:44:54 -0500
From: Melinda Hughes
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Dear Steve,
Your inquiry about starting a volunteer program for water monitoring and public education was forwarded to me. I am with the Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement (EASI), and basically our mission is to involve retirees and other seniors in environmental projects that better their community. More information about EASI and our programs can be found at

We have several Senior Environment Corps around the country that perform water testing (8 parameters). In addition to their monthly water testing, the volunteers also perform bi-annual macro-invertebrate testing and physical assessments of the stream sites. Many of the volunteers are also trained for Homeland Security purposes, and some even monitor for Abandoned Mine Drainage.

Besides the water testing, their are many other programs that EASI volunteers participate in including: brownfields revitalization, radon programs, West Nile Virus and children’s environmental health. Again, most of our programs can be found on our website at

If you want information about any particular programs, please let me know. I can be reached at 540-788-3274 or at


Melinda Hughes


Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 12:24:27 -0500
From: Linda Green
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program

Hi Steve,
I’m one of the folks who works with Kris Stepenuck on facilitating volunteer water quality monitoring programs. I also am program director for a volunteer monitoring program in RI. Quite often letters to the editor of local papers are read more than articles, so you might consider writing a concise one about what you hope to accomplish and who you are trying to attract as well as specifics about how much time the training and monitoring will take. Is there a municipal web page that you could post a notice to? CAn you include a flyer in water department bills? Here in RI not many folks pay their water bills in person. How about church newsletters? Or contacting Scouts? Does your high school have an environmental club? A town wide-recreation department? Lately we find a good number of families volunteering as a chance for an outdoor family activity and we have had a few state science fair winners from students who have been volunteer monitors. As a bit of a reality check, for every 100 folks who contact us about volunteering (and we speak to just about every one of them on the phone or via email), approx 50-60 come to one of our 1/2 day classroom trainings, about 25-30 come to follow up 1/2 day (or early evening) field trainings, and about 25 become active monitors. Of those 25, approx 15 will continue for the following year and 10 for the year after that. Once we have ’em for 3 years they’re hooked (pun intended). Our program, URI Watershed Watch is fairly intensive, with lake monitors going out weekly, and stream monitors biweekly, from May thru October. Our program started in 1988.

Best Wishes!
Linda Green


Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2004 09:03:22 -0500
From: John Murphy
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: Seeking advice on creating a volunteer program


We’re in a 765-square mile watershed in central Virginia (Charlottesville, home of Monticello and the University of Virginia). Urbanization, forestry, and some cattle farming are biggest threats.Our program is a little over a year old. The formula for success has been: 1) a supportive community, including environmentally-minded public employees, 2) an explicitly stated community-identified need for a monitoring program, 3) a lot of hard work, much of it on a volunteer basis (including a great deal of volunteer time given by me, the program coordinator), 4) grant monies, and 5) tons and tons of communication.

Our program is a little over a year old. The formula for success has been: 1) a supportive community, including environmentally-minded public employees, 2) an explicitly stated community-identified need for a monitoring program, 3) a lot of hard work, much of it on a volunteer basis (including a great deal of volunteer time given by me, the program coordinator), 4) grant monies, and 5) tons and tons of communication.

You might check out our website (not yet public) at 

Good luck!


John Murphy
Program Manager
P.O. Box 181
Ivy, VA 22945
Cellphone: 434-242-1145


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