Managing Volunteers

Question 1: Can anyone speak with respect to cutting costs and services without reducing support?

Question 2: Does anyone have any tips for getting volunteers to turn in their data?

Question 3:  I’m looking a great example of an actual volunteer job description.

Question 4: I wonder how your programs deal with insurance, liability, or “risk” in monitoring effluent dominated streams?

Question 5: Do any of the nonprofit organizations out there use volunteers in diving or snorkeling activities? 

Question 6: Are there liability insurace carriers that specialize in insuring volunteer watershed organizations?

Question 7:  How do we encourage a volunteer that continued monitoring is worthwhile? What small steps could be taken to make a difference?

Question 8: Can someone please suggest a way to get past the first step (collecting simple data/having awareness)?

Question 9: Anyone know of good ways to implement a program of assisting people to work as advisors with their local elected officials?

Article 1: Silent Streams by Mary Battiata

Question 10: Does anyone know how to get your volunteers to return equipment?

Question 1

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 12:12:27 -0600
From: Jason Pinchback
Subject: [volmonitor] {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support for


I am seeking advice on some ways to decrease costs and services without reducing program facilitation and volmon support.

Can you respond to any of the following points?

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge?

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment?

4. For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach? In Texas, I estimate 30% of our volmons are not computer wise; 30% of our monitors do not currently submit their collected data (via snail mail) in a timely manner. What’s your experience?

Any information or comments will be greatly appreciated.


Jason Pinchback
Texas Watch
512 245 9148

Responses to Question 1

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 12:26:24 -0500
From: “Filbert, Jennifer”
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support for volmons}}}

#1- I think it is reasonable, although we do print the manuals for the volunteers.
We’re working on an online version though.

#2- we don’t charge anything

#3- for chemical monitoring (beyond just secchi), we require the volunteer to get a grant to participate. Our program gives out a limited number of grants/year. If they get a grant, equipment is provided at no charge.

In response to # 4:
For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach? In Texas, I estimate 30% of our volmons are not computer wise; 30% of our monitors do not currently submit their collected data (via snail mail) in a timely manner. What’s your experience?

#4 is nearest & dearest to what I work on most. We do have online data entry. I would say over half enter all of their data online. We had a form last year that emailed us the data. Then I had a program that manipulated it to get it into the database. This was somewhat time consuming on my end.

Also since the 1990s, we’ve had a telephone system where volunteers can call in their data by touch-tone phone. This works fairly well. The system has a few bugs, but mostly it works. We continue to run the phone system for people w/o the internet. We use Mastervox software. If you were interested, we could share our file that contains the design for our phone line. The other 50% of volunteers, or maybe 49% call in their data . So about 99% of our volunteers either call it in or enter it online.

With the online system, we went to a new form this year that requires a log in. This is somewhat more of a challenge for the less computer-savvy folks. The new system has a big advantage though: it puts the data directly into our database. Yet some volunteers miss the old system where they didn’t have to log in & it emailed us the data. The solution I plan to implement is to conduct a few trainings/year around the state on how to enter data & how to get the most out of our website. Maybe the morning would be “how to understand your data” and the afternoon a computer training.

Sometimes, when a volunteer isn’t computer literate, they have someone else on the lake, or their spouse, or granddaughter or grandson enter the data.

Ultimately, though, if they send it on paper, I still take it & find time to enter it in.

– Jennifer Filbert
Self-Help Lake Monitoring
Wisconsin DNR


Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 13:41:13 -0400
From: Nancy Hadley
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

On Jun 23, 2004, at 2:12 PM, Jason Pinchback wrote:


I am seeking advice on some ways to decrease costs and services without reducing program facilitation and volmon support.

Can you respond to any of the following points?

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

I dont think this is unreasonable but later you say your monitors are not computer savvy so how is that going to work.

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge?

No we do not charge and I cannot imagine they would pay.

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment?

No we supply all equipment and reagents. The volunteers do supply paper towels and distilled water.

4. For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach? In Texas, I estimate 30% of our volmons are not computer wise; 30% of our monitors do not currently submit their collected data (via snail mail) in a timely manner. What’s your experience?

Most of the volunteers who actually remember to go get the data do enter it. Those who are not comfortable with that fax us the data sheets or even snailmail them. The data that is entered appears to be entered correctly >90% of the time. A few people seem to stockpile their data and enter 6 months worth at a time which is a pain. I think the online data entry is very important because it gives volunteers more of a feeling that they are doing science. Our website also allows them to view the data in various formats and compare with other sites.
Of course we do have to check regularly for erroneous data and correct it. However I never suspect it was entered wrong – i think there was a faulty instrument or an inexperiencced operator.
Any information or comments will be greatly appreciated.

We solved some of the expense by establishing water monitoring equipment depots which several volunteers share.


Jason Pinchback
Texas Watch
512 245 9148


Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 13:41:43 -0400
From: Dennis
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

Hi Jason,

We do not charge our volunteers for anything. In fact, I try to find ways to thank them. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to give them each a mug in appreciation for last year’s help (this does not happen each year, though I wish I could do that!). If they weren’t out there early in the morning taking those samples, I would not have the data and would not have the program, so I try to make everything as volunteer friendly as possible. Perhaps if I had volunteers lining up at my door I would think differently, but until that happens, I try to keep them happy, and luckily they have been coming back year after year. I also enter all our data, with the help of interns. That way I can QC it before it goes out our door.

Good luck decreasing your costs, especially in these tight fiscal times! I do understand your dilemma!

Carolyn W. Sibner
Housatonic Valley Association
So. Lee, MA


Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 12:00:21 -0600
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support for volmons}}}

This is for Colorado’s Rivers of Colorado Water Watch Program:

Barb Horn
Biologist, Colorado Division of Wildlife
151 E. 16th Ave., Durango, CO 81301
vc: 970/382-6667 fx: 970/247-4785

—–Original Message—–
From: Jason Pinchback []
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 12:12 PM
Subject: [volmonitor] {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}


I am seeking advice on some ways to decrease costs and services without reducing program facilitation and volmon support.

Can you respond to any of the following points?

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

NO–we found it prohibited quality training, we do require the download subsequent versions, we supply first copy

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge?–50$ to attend training, they supply some supplies and cost of shipping samples, we did a survey to see if

We would lose volunteers if we charged a membership fee, result was yes we would

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment?

No, we supply 90% of it, have to to meet quality assurance/control and data objectives for our data uses, maybe you don’t, function of data uses + data users needs.

4. For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach? In Texas, I estimate 30% of our volmons are not computer wise; 30% of our monitors do not currently submit their collected data (via snail mail) in a timely manner. What’s your experience?

We require it has a performance criteria in their contract, we get 80% compliance, when training was required it didn’t work or Cost was greater than benefit, now with web, it is not. We make data entry the last part of a sampling event, we make it as important as the sampling event itself. We require the hard copies to be sent to us so we can validate their entry and math errors, they are required to keep a copy of the data too.

Any information or comments will be greatly appreciated.


Jason Pinchback
Texas Watch
512 245 9148
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 11:34:12 -0700
From: Eleanor Ely
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

Interesting questions! I hope people keep responding to the whole listserv because I’m interested in the responses, and I imagine others are too.

It sounds as if getting individual volunteers to pay could be problematic, but there are other approaches such as getting local businesses to adopt sites (and pay), getting financial support from local municipalities, homeowners associations, etc., who are interested in the data, getting corporate support … all of these ideas are covered in the upcoming issue of The Volunteer Monitor, which will be available in August.


Eleanor Ely
Editor, The Volunteer Monitor Newsletter
50 Benton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 13:51:11 -0500
From: Steven Witmer
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

This is based on my own experience as a volunteer for the IOWATER program in Iowa.

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

IOWATER supplies their volunteers with a hard copy at the time of training. The manuals aren’t online yet but they’re working on it.

The main drawback I see to printing or downloading their own manuals is the one others have already rought up – how computer-savvy the volunteers are, and also the quality of their hardware. Someone with an older printer or computer may have a difficult time printing a hefty manual. You could always have hard copies available but encourage people to print their own.

One suggestion that might be helpful in encouraging people to print their own if the manual is online would be to have the manual broken down into sections. Someone with a dial-up connection will have an easier time of it if the files are ten smaller files rather than one big file of – that way if they just want to look at one or two sections they don’t have to wait ten minutes for their computer to bring up the entire thing.

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge?

IOWATER charges $25 for the basic training and $10 per advanced training module. Given that the basic training covers about a day and half and includes equipment, I felt that was very reasonable. There is no membership fee, only the training fees.

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment?

IOWATER volunteers receive their equipment as part of their training. Given the modest cost of the training, the IOWATER program subsidizes the vast majority of the cost of the training and equipment. The IOWATER program itself is operated under the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources.

To cut down on costs, the program asks volunteers not to take equipment items during the training if they know they aren’t going to use them (for example, if they don’t intend to test for dissolved oxygen, then they should not take a DO test kit). Also, while they do replenish expired equipment or equipment that has been used up, as a requirement of doing so they require the volunteer to have submitted a certain minimum amount of data.

The last question on data submittal I’m afraid I can’t answer, but I know I’ve been guilty of waiting several weeks before submitting data to the program’s online database before. The online database does require a password and monitor id for security, but I’ve never found that to be a problem and think it’s pretty sensible. On my part the delay was more of an issue of my just needing to take the time to sit down and do the data entry.
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 15:32:37 -0400
From: URI Watershed Watch
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support for volmons}}}

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

Jason, 65 pages seems like a lot to down load and print for your average volunteer (I know with my phone modem and printer at home it sure would be). However, if as mentioned earlier, there were short sections that folks could down load that would be more reasonable.

Our program (URI Watershed Watch) has its manual online and we suggest that potential volunteers take a look at it prior to attending our first classroom training. We provide a hard copy of the manual at the first training. But we do not hand it out until AFTER the first classroom session is complete (so they have a better sense of what they are getting into) and then provide it to only those who signup for the field training.

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge?

We do not charge our volunteers per se, but we do charge a registration fee per monitoring site that ranges from $250 to $600 per year depending on the site and the intensity of monitoring. This fee is paid for by a ‘sponsoring’ organization, typically a municipal conservation commission, lake or watershed association, Trout Unlimited, etc. Some sites are also covered under various project grants, as well as some money directly from our state environmental agency to support the program from which they get so much data. We also encourage the local sponsor to help coordinate “their” volunteers.

This system has worked very well for our program. In addition to providing much needed basic program support, the fee encourages the sponsoring agency to at least review the data, and hopefully put it to good use. In some cases this arrangement has helped local organizations to recruit new members who started out monitoring a waterbody that they were interested and through that sponsorship discovered that there was this group working to protect it.

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment?

Our program maintains ownership of all our equipment – and covers all of its cost. Each spring we hand out one set of monitoring supplies for each monitoring site (teams or partners sharing responsibility for an individual site have to make their own arrangements for sharing the equipment). Then in the fall all of the equipment is returned with the last set of water samples. We clean and recalibrate stuff, discard old reagents, etc, then repack everything in the spring….

4. For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach?

We have not gone to on-line data entry yet for 2 reasons. First – I’m not convinced that we have the level of technical support here on campus to support that. And second, after many years of dealing with the data entry errors of students which are generally fixable by reviewing the data postcard that the volunteer had mailed in, I’m still not comfortable not having a hard copy to refer back to. It’s just too easy to transpose numbers and without that paper you may never realize where the mistake was…

Good luck!

Elizabeth Herron
URI Watershed Watch
Phone: 401-874-4552
Fax: 401-874-4561


Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 12:55:40 -0700
From: Chrys Bertolotto
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support for volmons}}}

We don’t charge volunteers a few: their service is their payment. I try very hard to articulate to decision makers the cost savings they are receiving by having volunteers collect data rather than consultants or staff. Of course, we could never get the data without volunteers (too few staff, too great cost).

I have worked with volunteers and paid interns with lower billing rates than permanent staff to prepare kits or coordinate volunteers. Both of these have helped to reduce cost and save staff time. For us, staff time availability is the big sticking point. Perhaps you could connect to a local university and try and secure interns.

Chrys Bertolotto
City of Issaquah Resource Conservation Office
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 2004 10:34:34 -0500
Subject: [volmonitor] Re: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

This is from the Illinois EcoWatch Network’s perspective. I hope it helps.
See responses below..

Shelly Fuller
IL RiverWatch Program Coordinator
IL Department of Natural Resources

>>> 6/23/2004 1:12:27 PM >>>

1. Do you think it’s reasonable for new volmons to print (pdf from website) the procedures manual (65pages) for their initial training and reference?

No. We feel the program should supply the manual & training materials as an issue of quality assurance. Our RiverWatch manual is bound & we supply new manuals to everyone on the rare occasion a new edition is printed. Our ForestWatch and PrairieWatch procedures are ever evolving so those manuals are placed in 3 hole punched report covers so replacement pages can be sent & downloaded from our site. Perhaps this method could help you cut costs.

2. Do you charge volunteer monitors for their participation in your program? No. Did you try it and it worked…or not? How much to charge? Years ago our surveys indicated some(but not all) were willing to pay $25-50 for training. We didn’t want cost to deter really dedicated people from participating so we don’t charge.

3. Do you charge volmons for equipment, reagents, etc? no Does your program subsidize all or part of the equipment? We conduct biological monitoring so no reagents are necessary. Kits cost around $125 and cost was considered when the equipment was selected several years ago. DNR owns ~ 90 stream kits which are housed at 60 loaner locations statewide. Several volunteers, nature centers, counties etc also own their own equipment and loan it to local volunteers.

4. For those with on-line data entry…what percentage of volunteer monitors enter all of their data? Are there serious drawbacks from this approach? In Texas, I estimate 30% of our volmons are not computer wise; 30% of our monitors do not currently submit their collected data (via snail mail) in a timely manner. What’s your experience?
We’ve had on-line data entry for several years. About 40% of our volunteers use it and that number is on the rise. It saves us tons of staff time. Time we use to do entry for those w/out access. I like it because we are able to standardize the formatting and have less QA cleaning up of the database later on. It also calculates the biological indicies which is a stress reliever for the volunteers. The site is super user friendly and we’re pretty happy with it.

Our on-line data entry by volunteers is optional but ALL volunteers must also submit their data sheets and samples or their data is rejected. They get 6 weeks from the end of the monitoring season. We verify all entry (volunteer & staff) with the hard copies and file the paperwork for safe keeping & future reference. Most volunteers are conditioned to adhere to the 6 week data submission period and it seems those who use on-line entry are equally timely in sending bug samples and data sheets as those who don’t use the on-line system.

The major down side is we have to pay for a programmer and we’ve had turn over in this position a couple of times . To save money we share this person with our professional monitoring staff so she stays pretty busy…which can be a hassle if any glitches arise and she’s busy with other projects.

If you’d like to see the site I can arrange temporary access. Again, this is for biological data so maybe it’s not what your looking for.

Let me know.

Any information or comments will be greatly appreciated.


Jason Pinchback
Texas Watch
512 245 9148


Date: Thu, 01 Jul 2004 14:48:11 -0400
From: “Lamoreaux, Andrea M”
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: volmonitor digest: June 23, 2004

Hi Jason,

I coordinate the New Hampshire Deparment of Environmental Services Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (NHVLAP). In response to your questions regarding volunteer monitoring program costs, here is what we do with NHVLAP….

1. We provide one laminated, colored manual per volunteer monitoirng group at their initial training. If they would like additional copies, we ask them to go to our website and printoff a pdf manual.

2. We do not charge volunteers for training or annual NHDES biologist visits.

3. We loan sampling equipment out to volunteer monitors free of charge. Volunteers use equipment to collect water samples from the lake deep spot and tributaries. These water samples are brought to a NHDES approved VLAP laboratory where they are analyzed. Turbidity, pH,ANC, conductivity, chlorophyll, and plankton samples are run free of charge. The volunteers are charged $10 per total phosphorus and E.coli sample.

4. NHVLAP volunteers do not participate in on-line data entry. All data entry is conducted by DES Biologists and trained staff.

For more information about our program, please visit our website or feel free to contact me directly.

Thanks and good luck!

Andrea LaMoreaux
Andrea LaMoreaux
Volunteer Lake Assessment Program Coordinator
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
PO Box 95
29 Hazen Drive
Concord, New Hampshire 03302-0095
Telephone: (603) 271-2658
Fax: (603) 271-7894


Date: Mon, 12 Jul 2004 11:46:44 -0400
From: Ginger North
Subject: [volmonitor] RE: {{{cutting costs & services without reducing support
for volmons}}}

I am sorry that my reply is so tardy but I have been out of the office.
#1. – We supply manuals free of charge, but have private industry donate the printing costs, so it does not cost us anything but the labor of writing it in the first place & editing it periodically.
#2. – We have done both charge & offer it for free. It doesn’t seem to make much difference in attendance. We currently offer it for free unless we are doing something special (like canoeing) in addition to the workshop.
#3. – We offer equipment to borrow for our stream adoption program. We supply all our technical monitors (the ones who monitor chemical parameters monthly) with equipment, supplies, refills, etc. free of charge. Again we get private industry to actually buy the equipment & supplies.
#4. – We do have technical volunteers enter their data electronically if they want. Probably 3/4 do – I now we are in the process of upgrading it & they cannot use it & they are quite upset about it. So I feel this is a positive & important part of supporting the volunteers. Volunteers who use snail mail vary widely in how prompt they are in submitting datasheets. Some do it every month & some hold onto it for 3 or 4 months.
I hope this helps.
Ginger North
Stream Watch Coordinator
Delaware Nature Society
Fax 302-239-2473

Question 2

Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2006
From: “Kristine F. Stepenuck”
Subject: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi folks-

I had a local coordinator for Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers’ stream monitoring program ask me if I had any tips for how to get people to turn in data that they are collecting.  He knows people are monitoring, but turning in their data to him doesn’t seem to be a priority for them.  We currently have an online database where most volunteers submit their data to a local coordinator who then enters it online. We’re working to have volunteers be able to enter their own data, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.  I figured I’d see what suggestions you all might have to entice people to turn their data in.



Kris Stepenuck
WI Volunteer Stream Monitoring Coordinator and staff on Volunteer Water Monitoring National Facilitation Project
UW-Extension and WI Department of Natural Resources
210 Hiram Smith Hall
1545 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1289
Phone: 608-265-3887
Fax: 608-262-2031

Responses to Question 2

From: Jopke, Peter []
Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2003 4:14 PM
To: Stepenuck, Kris F.
Subject: RE: getting people to give you their data

Hi Kris,

I usually threaten them with the d-frame net!!

I think the big thing is to keep them up to date on your overall efforts. In other words, by praising them all for their efforts, those that have been lagging must feel guilty and always send their data in shortly after such a message.  I also mention that the data they collect is indeed useful.  Maybe not right now but as the database grows, we may see some significant trends.

If I have not seen or heard from a monitor I will usually call them and ask how things are going and whether or not they are still monitoring. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to regenerate the interest.  I really believe coordinators are salespeople.  It is up to us to continue to stay in contact and sell our program.  If the end result is getting good quality data into the system, then we have succeeded.  Everyone’s personality is different.  My whole pitch starts with how much I appreciate their efforts and getting them to want to continue doing the monitoring. Some are much more reliable than others.  Thats just a fact of life in general.

I am not sure whether this helps or is just an editorial on my behalf.

Good Luck



From: Kay and Dave Fritz []
Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2003 4:23 PM
To: Stepenuck, Kris F.
Subject: Re: getting people to give you their data


We have two methods people use. Either e-mail or paper. Peggy provided paper copies and addressed envelopes at the training so it would be easy for people to mail them. I have a template some people us via e-mail, others write it as a narrative. I prefer the template because I have it laid out so it’s easy to enter data into your database.



Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 14:55:00 -0400
From: “Andersen, Karen”
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi Kris;

My name is Karen Andersen. I am the Laboratory/Program Director for the Friends of the Shenandoah River (FOSR) located in Virginia. The FOSR is a non-profit scientific organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the aquatic environment of the Shenandoah River and its tributaries. The FOSR has the only citizen volunteer water quality monitoring program and water quality analysis laboratory certified by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in the state. The water quality parameters the waters are monitored for include; Ammonia, Ortho Phosphate, Nitrite-Nitrate, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, turbidity and E. coli (using the coliscan easy gel method). This effort is accomplished in cooperation with seven volunteer citizen monitoring organizations throughout the watershed and is recognized as the premier citizen volunteer water quality monitoring program in Virginia. Manned by over 100 volunteer monitors, water samples are collected twice a month throughout the year at more than 130 sites covering over 730 miles of river and tributary streams. The FOSR has an established “Volunteer Water Monitoring and Water Quality Analysis Quality Assurance Project Plan”. Included in this plan is a training and certification program for the volunteer water monitors.

Does your group have an established set of protocols for training, water monitoring and data recording, submission and chain of custody for the volunteers?

Is this a new position for you? Not to long ago a job announcement for a Watershed Coordinator position out there in Madison Wisconsin come across my desk. It was kind of funny because about the same time my daughter got accepted to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I told her was going to follow her out to Madison. She did not think it was so funny.

Karen Andersen
Program/Laboratory Director
Friends of the Shenandoah River
1460 University Drive
Winchester, VA 22601
(540) 665-1286


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 15:05:22 -0500
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi Kris,

Boy – good question! I am trying to recall what we did at IL EcoWatch. You may already be doing some of these. Let’s see…the first thing is to have a “firm” deadline that is widely- and frequently-publicized. By “firm”, I mean you talk a tough game but in reality you accept any (quality) data that come in! Then, we used to make a round of calls for people who were due to monitor but had not submitted by the deadline. Next, we used to use the “guilt” method – we would have a year-end volunteer appreciation event (we actually used to have several throughout the state but cut back to one or two statewide due to budget constraints in later years). At these events we would have food, speakers, awards etc. We also sent letters to let people know how valuable their data are. Another thing was to make data submission as easy as possible. We had online data entry available to the volunteers but still required them to send hard copy as backup (to verify the data etc). In addition, since they had to submit their macroinvertebrate samples in the case of RiverWatch (for verification), they had to send those in or drop them off. So we had places all around the state where they could drop off their data sheets and bug samples. State parks and community colleges, for instance. Then we would pick up the samples. I forget how many drop-off sites we had, it must have been 25-30. (We would monitor how many samples each site received to determine the best places to have these pick=up stations.)

In sum, we did all of the above. We still didn’t get ’em all, but we came close. Hope this helps! It is easier said than done, that’s for sure!

Pete Jackson


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 15:20:46 -0500
From: “Sovell, Laurie”
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in


The ideas you’ve received so far line up with what we do in Minnesota – have a firm deadline, state it often, send a reminder letter to those who haven’t submitted data by a certain date, reward those who do submit data.

Two others come to mind:

1) Let people know that their data will not be included in a summary report (if one is generated) unless it is submitted by a certain “drop-dead” date.

2) If volunteers submit hard-copy data, provide a metered, self-addressed envelope along with program materials at the beginning of the season, so it’s easy for folks to send completed forms back to you.


Laurie Sovell
Coordinator, Citizen Stream-Monitoring Program
MN Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Rd. N.
St. Paul, MN 55155
651/296-7187 (phone)
651/297-8324 (fax)


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 17:05:24 -0400
From: Tracie Beasley
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

We are currently using paper forms. If you choose to do this, make sure your teams have easy access to self-addressed stamped envelopes (We put them in our stream monitoring kits). I’ve had 100% success over 3 seasons.

Also, make sure there is a team coordinator that is the responsible person for monitoring and make this responsibility clear. Good luck.

Tracie Beasley
Stewardship Director
Clinton River Watershed Council
101 Main St., Suite 100
Rochester, MI 48307
Phone 248-601-0606
Fax 248-601-1280


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 16:12:19 -0500
From: Tim Rielly
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

I think “entice” is the key word, I’ll try to make this short. The Missouri Stream Team Program offers incentives to volunteers who turn in water quality data and let us know any other activities they have been doing such as litter pick-ups or advocacy. We have an activity report that can be sent in as a hard copy or submitted electronically to the program. If they fill out this activity report they can request “thank you items” such as Stream Team t-shirts, lapel pins, temporary tattoos, etc for their efforts. They can also enter for an activity prize drawing which may be a large item such as a canoe or a “youth group prize”, which may be a pizza party. We use this activity reporting system to track activities over the year. Even though we are fortunate enough to be well funded by the sponsoring agencies and by fund raising, this system is still not perfect. We know that a large percentage of volunteers do litter pick-ups and do not ever report them. Or, they may collect water quality data and not turn it in for two or three years, if ever. I know its more work but you might try looking for local sponsors to donate prizes for prize drawings, on say a quarterly basis. Its worth a shot, offering an incentive or “carrot” does seem to help.

Good luck, we all feel your pain!

Tim Rielly
Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator
Missouri Department of Conservation
573-751-4115 ext. 3166

He also responded:

I always tell people what works for us may not work for you, different programs have different focuses.  We are up to 3119 Stream Teams with about 55,00 to 60,000 members.  Tracking what they do is a pain in the neck and is not a healthy job for a compulsive person.  Incentives do help to get them to turn in their activities but it will never be perfect


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 16:25:13 -0500
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

I agree with Tim and others that “enticing” volunteers with tee-shirts etc is effective if you have the budget. They love the tee-shirts, plus it’s built-in advertising.

Pete Jackson
USEPA Region 5


Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2006 13:58:05 -0600
From: “Horn, Barb”
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

For us getting data turned in is part of the training and an informal agreement the volunteer signs. We reclaim equipment if a volunteer does not meet our agreed upon 12 performance criteria. Folks can enter data on line and we include it as one of the steps in sampling-prep,collection, analyses, data entry, ship samples if relevant. We stress that if this whole continuum is not followed we cannot achieve our goals of protecting our streams. But we work hard up front in the training to make sure the volunteers know why we need the data and also why they are doing the sampling and that we can only succeed together. We have tried incentives for those that do succeed, most of them tell us it is not important or relevant because that is not why they are sampling. If it was important to them we would do more of it, but we ask each volunteer how they would like to be rewarded and why they are doing this, and we turn away volunteers that don’t have a common goal with us. We have volunteers sign an annual contract, that was their idea, that gives them a chance to quit and us a way to know exactly every year who is going to be committed and we can look for replacements in areas to keep the data collection going. Good luck.


>>> Chris Riggert 07/20/06 10:20 AM >>>
Hi Kris!

Hope all is going well further north…hope it isn’t as hot as it is here this week (triple digits actual heat w/ index of around 120…I need to change my latitude or my altitude!)

We have had similar experiences in getting our volunteers to turn in activities in general (mainly litter pick-up events, letter writing, etc.). We estimated that last year we had approximately $2.4 million in volunteer effort…but that is based on just what is reported. Like the coordinator you mentioned, we know there is more stuff they are doing and not reporting.

However, I believe we have actually been fairly successful in having our volunteers turn in their data. I believe this is for a couple of reasons.

–> The first is that the volunteers are extremely dedicated and take ownership in their adopted site and stream. They really want to see their data posted on the Missouri Stream Team website. We also digitize their sampling location on an interactive mapping page as well. So they can find their site, click on it and see the data they collected.

–> The second is that we tell them up-front during the training sessions that their data gets used by local, county and state agencies and groups(particularly our Level 2 and 3 data).

–> Finally, we offer a “carrot.” Conducting and submitting WQM data is a Stream Team activity. They can get free “stuff” for volunteering their time on behalf of our stream resources (mainly t-shirts, mugs, key chains, etc.). Additionally they can be entered into a quarterly drawing for larger prizes (such as canoes, reference books, microscopes, camping equipment, etc.). I know this may not be an option for other volunteer groups across the nation. However, we have had pretty good luck in getting companies to donate larger items or gift cards (then we purchase the items) for the drawings.

I hope this helps!


From: Kris Stepenuck []
Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 3:44 PM
To: Horn, Barb
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi Barb-

Hm, an annual contract. That’s intriguing. Are your data used by the state or for management purposes? I ask because our entry level – which was our only level until recently – is eductional, so it makes it more difficult to give a reason we need the information- though now with our upper levels of data use a contract makes a lot of sense. Do you have an e-copy of the contract that you could send me?

Thanks so much!



Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2006 17:13:24 -0600
From: “Horn, Barb”
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Getting volunteers to turn data in

I will attach our MOU. We do use the data for triennial reviews, 303d listing and other CWA processes, most of our volunteers do it for ecducation and the fact that we do something w/ it–they understand that we need x amount from them for them to have an educational otherwords we both have to lay out our expecatations and give to get—if you aren’t getting your needs met then it is likely they are not either and there needs to be some different sort of commitment and FU process. We have to reclaim the equipment and turn it around to serve the numbers we do w/ budgets, folks understand that others are waiting in line (even if they aren’t literally)–we create a demand (and perhaps a larger illusion of one, we know there are numerous folks who will do this work even if we haven’t met them yet–it frees us up to serve those that are performing w/ a high quality service vs using our time to track down semi-performers… We chose not to have a tiered program but to get the same quality data from everyone who participates so we can make statewide statements about the results in each basin because everyone is doing the same thing …call me if you want any more info and good luck.

We ask folks to commit to the 12 performance criteria..if they do, they are automatically in program next year. If not, if we have to cut folks those that perform are in above those that don’t but tells us who are above those who don’t perform and don’t tell us. They have to commit do sample one station for one year each month for field parameters and metals, 2/yr for nutrients, 1/yr for bugs and physhab and then other qaqc type of criteria. We do the analyses for metals and nutrients and have a taxonomist to bug id—all so we can use data at health dept. The value of our volunteers is that they are in the field and we aren’t.

Nothing is perfect, but we are 15 years into it and this has served us well. We now have 2 contracts, one for schools and one for watershed groups that tend to have more goals than schools.



Barb Horn
Biologist, Colorado Division of Wildlife
151 E. 16th Ave., Durango, CO 81301
vc: 970/382-6667 fx: 970/247-4785


Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2006 08:48:02 -0500
From: Chris Riggert
Subject: Re: [CSREESVolMon] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi Kris,

Paul also pointed out to me that we require the volunteers to submit invertebrate and visual survey data before coming to the next level of training (where they get the chemical “stuff”).

We used to teach the equivalent of our Introduction and Level 1 classes as one workshop. People’s brains were too full, they were overwhelmed, and we weren’t getting the return for providing them with ALL of the equipment up front. We have seen a greater return by having them attend the Introduction workshop and just do the bugs and visual survey to get an idea of what kind of commitment they are getting themselves into. This has also saved us quite a bit of funds b/c those that realize it is a bit too much time, etc. don’t come to the next level of training, so we are better able to utilize our monies providing kits to a greater percentage of people that will actually use it and turn in their data to us.

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to give either Tim or myself a shout!

Christopher M. Riggert
Fisheries Biologist – Stream Unit
Missouri Department of Conservation
2901 W. Truman Blvd.
Jefferson City, MO 65109
Phone: (573) 522-4115 ext. 3167
Fax: (573) 526-0990


Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 13:41:00 -0500
From: William Deutsch
Subject: Re: [CSREESVolMon] Getting volunteers to turn data in

Hi Kris,
In AWW, we replace every monitor’s chemical reagents for free, if they submit at least nine months of data per year. That gets the forms coming in! For less than nine months, we replace broken glassware and thermometers but the monitor or group has to purchase the reagents. The online data entry feature will also appeal to many volunteers and about 80% of our data comes in that way now.

It’s amazing to me how some monitors will test a site for months without all that much concern about data submission and use. It shows how we coordinators sometimes prioritze things differently than the


From: Dana Oleskiewicz
Subject: Re: [CSREESVolMon] Getting volunteers to turn data in
To: Kris Stepenuck

Competition often is an incentive….first to submit, greatest number of data, etc…


Other unique answers received:

Bribe them with beer.


Send out Guido & Rocky and knocks some heads! -Tony Soprano

Question 3

From: Danielle Donkersloot []
Sent: Thursday, September 08, 2005 2:57 PM
To: Volunteer water monitoring
Subject: [volmonitor] looking for job description

Hello Everyone: I’m looking a great example of a volunteer job description. Not how to write one, but actual descriptions that you have used before. Thanks

Responses to Question 3

Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005 11:35:59 -0400
From: “Barrar, Heather”
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] looking for job description

The AVA (Association for Volunteer Administration) has some examples – of course they aren’t water quality specific, but a good resource. To those of you not familiar with AVA, I’ve found my local chapter to be a great place to network and find support. While there aren’t many other volunteer administrators in my local chapter that deal with environmental issues, they all have great advise for overall program


>Heather Barrar
>Environmental Volunteer Coordinator
>Chesterfield County
>Office of Water Quality
>P. O. Box 40
>Chesterfield, VA 23832
>(804) 748-1920
>(804) 768-8629 (Fax)


Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005 13:34:02 -0400
From: URI Watershed Watch
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] looking for job description

Well I don’t know if this is a great description, but it is one that we used – and we did get a good group of people for this project…

Maskerchugg River Project

Project Title: Development of a Citizen Watershed Monitoring and Public Education Program for the Maskerchugg River

Job Title: Maskerchugg Watershed Volunteer Monitor

Reports to: Linda T. Green, Director, URI Watershed Watch
Elizabeth Herron, Clean Lakes Coordinator, URI Watershed Watch

Purpose Assess condition of the Maskerchugg River watershed and
current water quality conditions.

Volunteer responsibilities may include some of the following:
. Collecting water samples
. Measuring stream flow
. Conducting shoreline and river habitat assessments
. Performing watershed surveys
. Report to project director or local coordinator

Volunteer qualifications:
. No science background is needed!
. Ability to walk along river banks or side walks
. Enjoyment of the outdoors
. Concern for the community and its environment

Training provided by URI Watershed Watch:
. Sessions on measuring stream flow, shoreline and river habitat assessment
. Training to perform watershed or “windshield” surveys
. Protocols for collecting water samples

URI Watershed Watch
Phone: 401-874-4552
Fax: 401-874-4561

Question 4

From: Kris Stepenuck
Subject: [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

Hi all

I was asked a good question by a colleague about liability insurance and volunteer monitors. I thought it would be useful to hear your input about how the issue is dealt with in your program. Specifically, I wonder how your programs deal with insurance, liability, or “risk” in monitoring effluent dominated streams? Also, do you have insurance for volunteers in water quality monitoring in general?

Thanks so much everyone!

Kris Stepenuck
Water Action Volunteers/ Volunteer Stream Monitoring Coordinator
UW-Extension and WI Department of Natural Resources
210 Hiram Smith Hall
1545 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1289|
Phone: 608-265-3887
Fax: 608-262-2031

Responses to Question 4

Subject: [volmonitor] Regarding Liability Insurance
To: Volunteer water monitoring

Regarding Liability Insurance:

Our watershed group has Directors and Officers Insurance, and Liability Insurance which is general, from a private insurance agent. We added insurance for volunteer water monitoring. At the time I inquired around and found that there was an insurance company specifically for watershed and environmental groups. I got the paperwork and had everyone look it over.

The application was very detailed and regrettably our people did not want to be bothered. Although it would have been less expensive, and in the long run would have been better for our group to switch all of our insurance to this group, they would not go through the application and complete it.

The following year they reviewed all information and stayed with a private carrier for same reason. The policy we have is general for nonprofits and not specific for some of the needs we have.

I would suggest inquiring [about a policy called] Conserve-A-Nation. See

Additionally I have all volunteers sign a waiver. If they are under age 18, their parents, as well as the younger person, must sign. They are required to read it and not just sign it. I go over safety precautions
very often, and in this state where Lyme disease is rampant, I have a separate set of precautions for that which In INSIST on.

[Volunteers] sign a statement about data collection and a statement that they have read and understood the safety precautions that we review and that are in their manual.

Additionally volunteers are covered theoretically under the National Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 and

New Jersey has a Volunteer Protection Act, which is more rigorous. For information on both NJ and Federal acts see

“Another section of the immunity law (N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7.1) provides that uncompensated volunteers, trustees and officers are not liable for damages related to their services on behalf of charitable non-profits, in cases of ordinary negligence. No distinction is made between recipients of the non-profits’ services and strangers, meaning that unpaid trustees, officers and volunteers are covered in their individual capacities regardless of whether the person suffering damages is a beneficiary of the group’s services.”

The above page from The Center for Nonprofits gives an insurance discussion.

There is also an article about Liability in an older issue of The Volunteer Monitor, EPA’s publication -see The Volunteer Monitor, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 1996 “Liability Insurance & Waivers”

Does this mean we have covered all bases?

Likely not.

[signature removed for privacy purposes]

example WAIVER and other materials from respondent:

I hereby acknowledge that I am fully informed about the possible risks and potential for injury or loss to myself and to my personal or real property associated with activities and participation in the [sponsoring program name here] (“the Program”). Such risks may include, but are not limited to, those associated with water-sampling, water-related activities, equipment usage and handling, adverse weather conditions, other natural conditions, and exposure to the outdoor environment and the like. I acknowledge that the [participating sponsoring agencies here] shall not be responsible for any loss or claims to myself or my property, and shall in no event be construed to have assumed any duty to me or my property by virtue of my participation in the Program. I also understand that I am not considered to be an employee, agent or representative of the [participating sponsoring agencies here] and agree not to hold myself out as such to other persons. I have read and understood safety precautions and outdoor precautions (initial and date)

Knowing these facts, and in consideration of your accepting my entry into the citizen volunteer program, I hereby expressly assume all risks and liability for injury or damage caused to myself or to my property. I (or my parents, guardians or responsible adults if a minor) assume liability for all injuries or damage caused by myself to others or their property. I further, for myself, my heirs and my executors, covenant not to sue and waive, release and discharge the[participating sponsoring agencies here] and any supporting organizations, and their agents, representatives, volunteer leaders or officers, assigns or anyone lawfully acting on their behalf from any and all claims, damages, losses, demands, and actions f any kind whatsoever, foreseen or unforeseen, which in any manner arise out of or in the course of my participation in [participating sponsoring agencies here] and related activities.

Name (print): ____________________________ Date: _____________________ (print)

Date of Birth:_____________ Signature _______________________________


City, State, Zip ____________________________________________________

Attn: Parent or Guardian If student is under 18, please complete this section to allow volunteer monitoring

I hereby give my permission for my child to participate in the activities of the [participating sponsoring agencies here] and endorse the waiver as stated above.

Print parent name______________________________Signature________________________________

DATE: _______________________________ (print)

The following statement of commitment must be read and signed by each volunteer as a condition of participation:

As a volunteer monitor working with [participating sponsoring agencies here], I commit myself to the collection of accurate, objective, environmental information. The data that I collect will be provided to the team representatives as soon as possible after I collect it. I commit to monitoring my sample sites, using procedures and timing that has been specified to me. I agree that I will conduct my environmental monitoring in a safe way that will protect myself and those people working with or near me from harm. I also agree that I will obey all appropriate state and federal laws and not trespass on private property in order to collect my environmental monitoring data. I agree that I will only monitor at my approved site, on my approved date and time only. I agree I will always monitor in the company of another person and never alone.

__________________________________ Organization: __________________________

__________________________________ DATE: _______________________________


I, for myself, my heir(s), and executors do hereby assume responsibility for the safety and care of all equipment, materials and supplies loaned or entrusted to me, and agree to transport, store and use such equipment, materials and/or supplies in a prudent and reasonable manner; to take such action as necessary to reduce the possibility of damage to, of, or from such equipment, materials, and/or supplies. I agree upon verbal or written demand of the [sponsoring organization here] or their authorized representative, to return said equipment, materials, and/or supplies within five working
days of such demand, to the [sponsoring organization]. I further grant full permission to the [sponsoring organization] to the use of my name and any videos, photographs, or similar records in which I appear or which may reveal my name or disclose my identity.

NAME: __________________________ Organization: _________________________

(signed) _____________________ DATE: ____________________________ (print)


I have read and understood the [sponsoring organiation] Safety Precautions

_________________________________________Signature __________________Date


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 09:14:39 -0400
From: Angela McCracken
Subject: RE: SPAM-LOW: [volmonitor] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

Hello everyone,

A few years ago, we surveyed watershed groups asking what they needed in terms of business and organizational support. Their response was general liability insurance, so we found an insurance company that allows us to add endorsements to our general liability insurance policy. We have been working with Roy Klauber, formerly of Marsh Advantage, now with Glatfelter to add these endorsements. We have been successful at administering this program at an affordable price to watershed groups.

We, here at PA Watersheds and Rivers, have a general liability insurance program for incorporated watershed groups who are members of PA Watersheds. The policy covers groups against third-party claims such as the classic “slip and fall” injury. It also covers claims of libel and slander with respect to publications and press interviews. It does NOT cover or replace D&O policies, insure automobiles or watercraft, cover on-the-water events, such as sojourns or canoe trips, or cover workers compensation. With respect to monitoring specifically, it would cover any monitoring occurring in the stream or on the embankment, but only if it is NOT performed out of a boat. In other words, you can’t be in a canoe monitoring and be covered by this policy. This was a real quick and dirty of our policy so I’m sure folks will have questions. If you do, please either respond to me (, or to John Coutts, who is our Director of Business Systems and insurance guy. His e-mail is His phone number is the same as below. Also, there is more information on our website,

The cost of this insurance was kept as low as possible for the sake of the watershed groups. The costs for 2005-06 are:
# of members X $.52 = $_________ (or $104 minimum)
PA Watersheds Administrative Fee = $100
PA Watersheds Membership Fee = $30

Again, please let me know if there are any questions, and I will answer them the best I can.


Angela M. McCracken
Program Coordinator
Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers
610 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
(717) 234-7910 – phone
(717) 234-7929 – fax


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 09:34:55 -0400
From: Tony Williams
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

Yes, we have insurance in general for our water quality monitoring volunteers.

Tony Williams
Water Monitoring Coordinator
The Coalition for Buzzards Bay
Nashawena Mills – 620 Belleville Avenue
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02745
Tel. 508-999-6363 x.203
Fax. 508-984-7913


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 08:48:36 -0500
From: Michael D Smolen
Subject: Re: [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

I checked with Cheryl Cheadle, the State Blue Thumb Coordinator on this. Cheryl says that all Blue Thumb volunteers are also NRCS Earth Team Volunteers. This allows them to come under workmans comp. It benefits NRCS because they can report the volunteer hours. I believe the volunteer hours may also be reported as part of the match on 319 projects.

Michael D. Smolen
218 Ag Hall
Stillwater, OK 74078-6021
phone: 405-744-8414
Fax: 405-744-6059


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 09:10:51 -0800
From: streamkeepers
Subject: [Az_wqmonitoring] RE: [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for

The County government that we’re part of is self-insured, and we insure all our volunteers for both “excess medical” (i.e., beyond their own insurance) and non-negligent liability. Volunteers must go through a one-hour orientation on safety and County policies before they’re covered under this insurance. There’s a whole packet of information they get and some stuff they have to sign. We also have a “Know Before You Go” section in our volunteer handbook that addresses some safety and liability issues. We haven’t had a claim in 8 years; and fortunately, we don’t generally have effluent problems in our streams.

Ed Chadd & Hannah Merrill, co-managers
Streamkeepers of Clallam County
Clallam County Department of Community Development
223 E. 4 St., Suite 5
Port Angeles, WA 98362
360-417-2281; FAX 360-417-2443


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 10:22:08 -0700
From: Eleanor Ely
Subject: [Az_wqmonitoring] RE: [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for

Just curious — are there any volunteer monitoring programs that have actually needed to use liability insurance for a volunteer monitoring-related lawsuit? It is my impression that volunteer monitors virtually never sue the organizations for which they are volunteering. Is this true?

Medical insurance could be a different matter — I could imagine it being used if a volunteer who had no other insurance was injured while volunteering. Are there any volunteer monitoring programs that have needed to use medical insurance for a volunteer monitor?


Eleanor Ely
Editor, The Volunteer Monitor Newsletter
50 Benton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 14:05:43 -0400
From: Scott Kishbaugh
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

All of the volunteers that participate in the NY Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP) are required to sign a Release of Claims / Waiver of Liability form that was approved by the state Attorney General’s office. While it is not iron-clad (and probably not completely lawyer proof), we have yet to face a liability issue from any of our > 1300 volunteers.


Scott A. Kishbaugh, P.E.
Environmental Engineer II
Lake Services Section
Bureau of Water Assessment and Management
NYSDEC Division of Water
625 Broadway, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-3502
(phone) 518-402-8282
(fax) 518-402-9029


From: Eleanor Ely
Subject: [volmonitor] liability insurance
To: Volunteer water monitoring

Below is a comment on the insurance question that was sent directly to me by Ken Cooke. He is unable to post directly to the listserv so I am forwarding his message on his behalf.
— Ellie Ely

Eleanor Ely
Editor, The Volunteer Monitor Newsletter
50 Benton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


That is a good question, has there been a need for the insurance in our profession.

More specifically, has any group actually “filed a claim” under their D and O or general liability insurance.

And, if so, what was the outcome of that filing? (payout, denial etc…)

They may not be able to give you the details of a payout. (such as amount) due to confidentiality clauses in insurance settlements.

Water Watch has not had a claim against it in its 20 year history. We have had injuries (particularly during clean ups from broken glass, stings, lacerations, broken bones from falls etc…) But, no one has
considered coming after us for money. That might change if they knew we had insurance!

I can’t send a question/message directly to the list serv due to our state government e-mail proxy system, so I have to ask you directly.


Ken Cooke
KY Water Watch


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 15:31:56 -0400
From: Danielle Donkersloot
Subject: [volmonitor] Fwd: RE: liability

Ellie thought everyone may be interested in this so I’m passing it along.

In the land of lawsuits, a volunteer in NJ did in fact get sued.

This volunteer works for the NJ Fish and Wildlife Service’s Volunteer Corp monitoring terrestrial species. He found an endangered species near a parking lot at a zoo. He filed a “spotting” report with Fish and Wildlife. The zoo was expanding the parking lot but because of his findings, they couldn’t get the permission. So the zoo actually sued the volunteer. There was a huge debate about this going on in the press, but ultimately, the volunteer was covered by the State’s lawyers in court. There are many more details to this story, but the bottom line is that we will never know when we will need the insurance, or what our volunteers may find in the field.


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 14:04:41 -0600
From: Laurie Fisher
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

(in response to Ellie’s question)

The issue may be less on the part of the volunteers themselves than where the organization gets its funding. In Colorado, if the State passes through (i.e., contracts) funds to any private organization
(nonprofit or otherwise) we require the organization to carry $1 million in liability insurance.


Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 17:15:50 -0400
From: URI Watershed Watch
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

We have a similar waiver form that our volunteers sign (vetted by the university lawyers). Essentially it informs the volunteers that they are NOT considered employees of the university and thus not covered by their insurance and that unless we do something really negligent that they can’t sue the university. We have had only one very minor injury (a minor chemical burn) so have never had anyone even suggest that they intended to make a liability claim. We do have an insurance policy for a small boat that we use to train volunteers and for monitoring by our student staff. This is a recent requirement of the university, which realized that its small boat fleet was not covered under their other policy.

Ellie, like you I have never heard of a volunteer monitor that pursued a legal liability against a program (nor have I heard of any serious associated illnesses or injuries) although it remains a source of concern to boards and agencies alike.

Elizabeth Herron
URI Watershed Watch
Phone: 401-874-4552
Fax: 401-874-4561


Date: Fri, 20 May 2005 09:04:44 -0400
From: Kimberly Morris-Zarneke
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Liability insurance for volunteers?

Kris – Here is Georgia, since the program is a state run volunteer program, all Adopt-A-Stream trainers, advisory board members, and state coordinators are covered by the Georgia Torte Claims Act of 1990. Which means as long as we have a structured program that includes trainer training and trainers submitting workshop participant lists, their liability is covered by the state. This coverage does not extend to volunteers. In our training workshops and manuals we have a whole safety component that tells people to collect sample at a safe, legal site and not to wait in during storm events. From what I have been told if a volunteer goes out and get hurt while voluntarily monitoring they be covered by their own personal insurance.

There is a federal version of the Torte Claims act the covers federal employees too so you may want to check and see as a state program if your state has adopted this act. FYI – Torte Claims Act mean one can not sue a state employee for you are suing the state itself.

Hope this helps. Kim

Kim Morris-Zarneke
Adopt-A-Stream Coordinator
Dept of Natural Resources
Environmental Protection Division
4220 International Parkway, Suite 101
Atlanta, GA 30354
ph: 404-675-1636
fax: 404-675-6245


Date: Mon, 23 May 2005 14:15:55 -0500
From: Tim Rielly
Subject: Re: [CSREESVolMon] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers?

Hey Kris,

Since we are a state agency so we are self insured. In the first workshop (they are in a series) we do have them sign a liability waiver in case they stub their toe. We have had no liability issues in the 11
years of this program and work hard to keep it that way.

Take care!

Tim Rielly
Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator
Missouri Department of Conservation
573-751-4115 ext. 3166


Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 09:53:08 -0400
From: John Murphy
Subject: [volmonitor] Liabiltiy insurance for volunteers


We insure our volunteers through NRCS’s Earth Team program ( Our local Soil and Water Conservation District is the liason.

I think Earth Team could be an option for other monitoring groups who are affiliated with SWCDs.

John Murphy, Director
office: (434) 923-8642
cell: (434) 242-1145


Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005 15:25:39 -0700
From: Eleanor Ely
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] [Partners] Liability Insurance

The Spring 1996 issue of The Volunteer Monitor newsletter has an article on insurance and waivers. It’s probably somewhat out of date but hopefully
still useful. You can find the issue online at


Eleanor Ely
Editor, The Volunteer Monitor Newsletter
50 Benton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


From: Kevin Erb
Subject: FW: do you have volunteer insurance?


Insurance protection is available via USDA NRCS’s Earth Team volunteer program, which provides workman’s comp/tort liability for volunteers over 14 years old. Contact Kim Cupery or Betty Stibbe at NRCS (see email above) for details


Question 5

Date: Wed, 16 May 2007 23:54:13 +0000
From: Jill Komoto
Subject: [volmonitor] Volunteers and General Liability

I see that this was a topic a while back in the Volunteer Monitoring newsletter but wanted to pose this question again. Do any of the nonprofit organizations out there use volunteers in diving or snorkeling activities? Do you have general liability insurance? I am looking for insurance companies that have dealt specifically with these types of activities with volunteers.

Jill Komoto
Malama Kai Foundation

Responses to Question 5

Date: Wed, 16 May 2007 17:23:19 -0700
From: Erick Burres
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Volunteers and General Liability

The California CoastKeepers had/has a Kelp Restoration Program that utilized divers. Tom Ford ran the program for Santa Monica (Baykeepers Martin Carreon with Divers Involved Voluntarilty in Environmental Rehabilitation and Safety ( does several activities such as cleanps with divers and Reef Check Reef Check ( conducts bio-surveys with divers.

Hope this helps,

Erick Burres
Citizen Monitoring Coordinator
SWRCB- Clean Water Team

You can self-subscribe to the Clean Water Team’s E-Mailing List. To subscribe visit and check the box marked
Citizen Monitoring Program/Clean Water Team.

Contact me at:
Desk (213) 576-6788
Cell (213) 712-6862
Fax (213) 576-6686

320 West 4th Street, Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Question 6

>>> 3/24/2009 12:51 PM >>>

I am interested in finding out if there are any liability insurance
carriers out there that specialize in insuring volunteer watershed
organizations and/or may do so at a reduced rate. Does anyone use
such a company and, if so, could you send me any info/recommendations? I
know of a fledgling local watershed organization interested in
liability insurance to cover its members and events, such as cleanups. Since it
is not affiliated with NRCS, I don’t believe this group can be covered
under the Earth Team policy. It is also not affiliated with a state
or county government.

I did look at the thread on this topic in the archived listserve discussions at, and most of the links no longer work. (Editor’s note: All links above checked and updated Fall 2010.)

Any guidance appreciated! Thanks.

Alice Mayio
USEPA Office of Water
Phone: 202-566-1184, Fax: 202-566-1437
Mail: 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW (4503T), Washington, DC 20460
Delivery: 1301 Constitution Ave NW (Rm7330Q), Washington, DC 20460

Responses to Question 6

From: Russell Schell []
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 4:18 PM
To: Volunteer water monitoring
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] liability insurance for volunteer programs

Check out the CIMA Companies which has a Volunteers Insurance Service Association offering, 1800 No Beauregard St’ Suite 100, Alexandria, VA,22311, Russell Schell


From: Lauren Webster []
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 5:04 PM
To: Volunteer water monitoring
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] liability insurance for volunteer programs

Check out Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance at They focus exclusively on nonprofit groups and have good rates.


Lauren Webster
Restoration Coordinator
Patuxent Riverkeeper
(301) 249-8200 ext 6
18600 Queen Anne Road
Upper Marlboro MD 20774
(Fax) 301-249-3613


—–Original Message—–
From: Erick Burres []
Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 1:19 AM
To: Volunteer water monitoring
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] liability insurance for volunteer programs


Here in California there are many insurance providers that cover the many diverse non-profit organizations located here. None specialize in watershed activities, but they can work with a group to ensure proper coverages.

I cannot and do not endorse any company, products or services. Here is a small sampling of what anyone can find:

Nonprofits??? Insurance Alliance of California is a provider of liability insurance for organizations in California. News, coverage and membership information.

CAN Insurance Services provides insurance tailored to California nonprofit organizations, including health, dental, vision, workers’ comp, liability and …

Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance Risk Retention Group Insurance provider owned and controlled by its member nonprofits, serving United States nonprofits. Coverage, membership information and resources.

California Nonprofit Insurance Alliance of California …

Erick Burres
Citizen Monitoring Coordinator
SWRCB- Clean Water Team


—–Original Message—–
From: Chris Riggert []
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:13 AM
To: Volunteer water monitoring
Cc: Paul Calvert; Andrew Branson
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] liability insurance for volunteer programs

Hi all, we did some investigation on this topic in Missouri after one of our
watershed groups asked a similar question. The text below summarizes what
one of my coworkers found (thanks Andrew!):


Here’s a response you may want to add to the discussion.

Hope this helps,
Andrew Branson

The state of Missouri has some state statutes that help protect the members of non-profits. Something like this may be available in other states as well.

The first one is: Officers or members of governing bodies of certain corporations, charities, organizations or clubs immune from personal liability for
official acts, exceptions. They have to be 1) non-compensated; 2) the negligence can’t be gross or willful and 3) what they do has to be covered by the organization’s by-laws.

The second one is: Volunteers, limited personal liability, certain organizations and government entities, exceptions.

The third one is: Paddlesport activities–definitions–immunity from liability.

If a group is needing insurance coverage for the participants of an activity that pertains to water, then the American Canoe Association is worth checking into.

The group organizing the event would have to join the American Canoe Association (ACA). $225/year for 100+ members. (Less for fewer members.)

You then qualify for their insurance coverage, but in order to extend it to non-members (i.e., school groups.) you must purchase an “individual event membership” for the activity. This fee is $5/non-member.

Participants may also join the ACA with a $10 Introductory 6 month membership, $30 Individual membership, $40 Family membership or a $25 student membership.

You can find out more about the ACA here:


I can appreciate that these are Missouri statutes, but depending on the
state in which you live, you may have something similar on the books.

Hope this helps!

Christopher M. Riggert
Stream Team Program
Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator
Missouri Department of Conservation
P.O. Box 180
2901 W. Truman Blvd.
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180
Phone: (573) 522-4115 ext. 3167
Fax: (573) 526-0990

Question 7

Date: Thu, 03 May 2007 08:37:42 -0700
From: “Williams, Gene”
Subject: [volmonitor] Motivating Volunteers Faced with Discouragement

We recently received this email message from one of our lake monitoring volunteers prior to the annual training workshop.

My apologies for waiting so long to reply. My wife and I were debating whether we would be able to do the monitoring this year.

Last year it seemed to be a hit and miss proposition. It is hard to be enthusiastic when it seems to bear so little fruit.

It isn’t difficult to see the waters are in peril. Very few insects in the air, few are fishing and I have seen no fish landed, the beaver are gone, the Osprey don’t visit often, the first mallard hatch has taken cover or died off already, the drakes are bach’ing it on the dock so the ladies must be nesting again, the lily pads below the surface are covered with algae or debris like when they die off in the fall, there are no honey bees and few midges this spring…

What can we do about it? Is it feasible to sample for chemical pollutants washing in from the watershed? Can we get the county to quit killing mosquitoes and every other insect?

We will see you Saturday.

It’s easy to feel his discouragement, and to sympathize with his sense of helplessness.

Unfortunately, the specific concerns he expresses are far beyond our program’s resources to address or monitor. And, he doesn’t even mention the water quality problems we do monitor in his lake, probably because they require restoration measures far beyond available resources to implement.

How do we encourage him that continued monitoring is worthwhile? What small steps could be taken to make a difference? And to help him see that he makes a difference?

This is an issue that faces many volunteers (and programs) after the first few years of initial excitement at being able to monitor a beloved water body.

All ideas are welcome. Thanks.

Gene Williams
Snohomish County Public Works
Surface Water Management
3000 Rockefeller Avenue, M/S 607
Everett, WA 98201-4046
(425) 388-3464 x4563

Responses to Question 7

Date: Thu, 03 May 2007 14:31:38 -0500
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Motivating Volunteers Faced with Discouragement

Just a simple point – I would remind the volunteer that we need water quality data the most when water quality is impaired. The data are needed to document the poor condition. Otherwise, noone knows or cares. Volunteers occasionally need to be reminded that for many volunteer monitoring programs the primary purpose of collecting data is not to”enjoy nature” per se, though we all hope to do so when we are out monitoring. The primary purpose is to document the condition of a waterbody, whether it be for educational or regulatory purposes. The worse the condition of a waterbody, the more valuable the contribution of the volunteer who ventures forth to collect data that documents this poor condition.

Of course, the point of collecting data in most cases is not to “make” a waterbody look good or bad, but to document that condition that is, whatever that may be. My point here is that if someone is concerned
about the poor condition, they should feel comforted knowing their data will show that. Rather than questioning their involvement, they might want to work with their watershed organization, their state water monitoring agency, etc. to raise awareness as to the poor conditions, using their own data as support for their case. It sounds like an opportunity for this volunteer to become an advocate for his/her local water resource. Perhaps they can put their own data to good use. Maybe you can help him/her along with some suggestions, contacts etc.

Of course, as a volunteer, the person will have to have the motivation to continue monitoring, or they will stop. I am just relating how some volunteers I know have found motivation.

Pete Jackson
U.S. EPA Region 5


Date: Thu, 03 May 2007 16:15:10 -0400
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Motivating Volunteers Faced with Discouragement


The issue you’ve highlighted is an important one and I sympathize with your discouraged volunteer. It can certainly be discouraging to collect data for years and see things just get worse and worse. For one thing, volunteers want to know what’s happening with their data, who’s looking at it, and how it might be used to fix things. Does their data “go” anywhere? Is it reported back to them in a newsletter or in meetings? Is it used to help identify impaired waters of the state? If the state doesn’t use it and the county doesn’t use it, who else can use it?

We often talk about moving volunteers beyond monitoring into taking action. While we need and want monitoring data, we don’t want data just for the sake of data (especially if it ends up gathering dust on a shelf or in a spreadsheet), but rather data that will be used to inform and to effect change. Ideally, government decisionmakers at some level will accept and scrutinize that data and use it to better manage water resources. But if they don’t, individual volunteers and watershed organizations should, and often do, use the data to inform their communities, speak out at planning meetings, write newsletter articles and letters to the editor, present posters at fairs, etc. There are many opportunities for public involvement that can effect change, and a trained, committed volunteer monitor is ideally suited for that kind of involvement.

We do have some resources that can perhaps help. The Summer 2002 issue of The Volunteer Monitor was on volunteer monitoring success stories and should cheer up the discouraged. Another issue of the Volunteer Monitor that is very relevant is the program management issue (spring 1998), which includes articles about the “people” side of volunteer monitoring. Check them out at

Volunteer monitors have made a difference and are making a difference every day, and we don’t want anyone to get discouraged and quit!

Alice Mayio
USEPA (4503T)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 566-1184

Street Address for visitors/deliveries:
EPA West, Room 7424B
1301 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004


Date: Thu, 03 May 2007 22:44:41 -0500
From: mark a kuechenmeister
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Motivating Volunteers Faced with Discouragement

Alice, Mark Kuechenmeister missouri strteam team 888, maline creek. this is the creek that we volunteer monitor for the missouri conservation department. people talk about discouragement and things are not getting better. we have been monitoring this creek for almost 10 years now ( 4 ) times a year . when we do a macroinvertibrate test we do not see alot of good macroinvertibrates in the creek just the tollerant ones. our creek has a poor rating. the state of missouri use our data for a variety of reasons. the creek is an urban creek with most of it impacted by one thing or another. i think what we are doing is not in vain but are letting people know that someone cares about this creek. we also pull out trash , plant trees around the stream banks for erossin control, attend learning seminars, putting arcticles in the local newspapers about what we are doing and helped out with a stream team display at the earthday celebration in st. louis,mo. there are so many things you can do to help out your creek, river, or lake that you should not be discouraged. as nike said just do it. thanks mark k.

Question 8

Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 16:52:52 +0000
From: Robert Ressl
Subject: [volmonitor] Monitoring database

In looking at most of the water quality data collected I note how there is little or no information about the conditions, in the watershed being sampled, that are the causes for the parameters being sampled. Likewise, in most of the sampling programs there is no awareness of the cause and effect relationships that exist in the ecosystem being monitored. Sampling for the purpose of collecting the basic parameters (DO, pH, Conductivity, temperature, etc.) is not bad but it is only a snapshot and doesn’t even detect problems that can exist. The downside is that haveing these measurements tends to give a false sense of conficence that everything is OK and that nothing else needs to be done.

We can’t seem to get past the first step (collecting the simple data) in controlling our actions that impact the environment. We seem to be no further along in the awareness program that just awareness. There are serious problems that our environment is facing and we want to increase awareness. We have to move on and fix the problems. The fixes aren’t cheep and they aren’t easy, and in somecases aren’t possible given our current technology and philosphy.

Responses to Question 8

Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 11:05:08 -0800
From: Eleanor Ely
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Monitoring database
To: Volunteer water monitoring

It sounds as if you had a bad experience. I would say that the attitudes you describe are not at all typical of volunteer monitoring programs. Every monitoring program I know of would agree that monitoring for the sake of monitoring this not useful. If you look through some of the articles in The Volunteer Monitor newsletter (available at you will see numerous examples of programs that are paying a great deal of attention not only to finding causes for problems but also to trying to solve those problems.

Eleanor Ely
Editor, The Volunteer Monitor Newsletter
50 Benton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 16:52:29 -0500
From: URI Watershed Watch
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Monitoring database
To: Volunteer water monitoring

Robert – you are absolutely correct. And that is why some monitoring programs are creating partnerships with other organizations that may have the info needed to make sense of it all.

For example – some programs are turning to NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) efforts. NEMO typically uses GIS and other assessment tools to evaluate landscapes, in order to help communities to restore degraded areas or reduce impacts from development. Please see for more information about NEMO or to
find a program near you.

By linking monitoring data with the models and other NEMO tools, a more accurate picture of what is happening within a watershed is developed. In addition, NEMO projects typically have technical resources that permit them to create maps and other presentation materials that monitoring programs may not have access to. This allows the monitoring data to be presented in a manner more easily understood by officials and the community – hopefully encouraging them to adopt the best management practices needed to restore or protect watershed resources. Alabama NEMO, NH’s NROC, and RI NEMO programs are examples of NEMO programs that have fully embraced the use volunteer monitoring data.

I’m know there are other examples where organizations have used these concepts to move from data to action, several of which were explored in the monitoring successes issue of The Volunteer Monitor newsletter ( that was previously mentioned by Ellie Ely.

But if anyone has any suggestions on how we can make that important step of actually using the data locally easier for our programs, please share them!

Elizabeth Herron
URI Watershed Watch
Phone: 401-874-4552
Fax: 401-874-4561

Question 9

Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 07:12:39 -0400
From: Joan Martin
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local river protection

We have many great volunteers in our river monitoring program in southeast Michigan and I want to engage some of the more committed ones to encourage their local communities to institute legal measures that will protect the river system from human effects. As an example, the first legal measure that we will probably focus on is restricting activities on the land lying adjacent to the streams.

It is very important to monitor our river system but we do not want to just carefully measure its deterioration. After a few years of monitoring, it is necessary to add an action component.

I am looking for ideas about good ways to implement a program of assisting people to work as advisors with their local elected officials. Please tell me about any sort of similar program that you know about,
either in your own location or elsewhere. Additionally, your ideas and comments on such a program would interest me.

-Joan Martin
Huron River Watershed Council
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Responses to Question 9

Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 05:00:13 -0700 (PDT)
From: David J Wilson
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local
river protection

Hi Joan,

I’ll be able to give a much more authoritative answer to your question after I see how things go with the Woods Creek Friends during the next five years or so! In the meantime, let me do a little crystal ball gazing.

1. I think that the starting point almost has to be the formation of subwatershed groups such as ours and a number of others in the Huron River watershed with which you are familiar. The success and effectiveness of these groups has been/will be greatly aided by HRWC support such as was provided to us by Ric and Dieter. They were perfect. This, unfortunately, does not guarantee a winner; there must be a committed cadre that is willing to learn and whose members work well together. How one arranges this I do not know; sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Initially it looked like our group was going to be a disaster, but our “problem children” all dropped out very quickly.

2. We are finding the support of the local government folks to be invaluable. Matt Best and Dan Swallow provide us with expertise on a broad range of essential subjects, they have all sorts of contacts, and they have access to resources that are turning out to be very useful to us.

3. My guess is that we will be most effective in advising local governments after we have established that we know what we’re talking about. That is, after we have successfully carried out a number of data-gathering projects and publicized the results, sponsored a public workshop or two (or more), acquired a reputation for providing accurate information clearly and conservatively, and avoided being used by political and other groups for their own agendas. It would also help to have a large enough membership to provide us with political clout should that be necessary.

4. I love the idea of working on regs to protect riparian buffer strips; that has been on my short list for quite a while.

Best of luck on this.



Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 13:08:39 -0500
Subject: RE:[volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local
river protection

Joan, your post is a very important one, and I would be very interested
in the response. Also, I do not want to detract from the local focus of
your question, but I would suggest that it might also be of great
interest to ask people how they have used volunteer monitoring data to
encourage their state water monitoring agencies to become more engaged
in local watershed protection, whether through follow-up monitoring or
other actions designed to implement the Clean Water Act. I would leave
it to you to decide if you would like to see a broader response that
incorporates both local and state collaborations.

P.S. – it was very nice meeting you last week!
Pete Jackson
U.S. EPA Region 5 Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator


Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 11:41:22 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local river …

In much of California, for whatever reasons, volunteer monitoring has generally not been a basis for action. Groups, in my perception, tend to start with a perceived local issue or project. The successful ones build from there. In our area, the San Francisco Bay, serious problems (heavy metals, pyrethroids, etc.) are frequently not amenable to volunteer monitoring.

However, the tests the volunteers can do, and their incidental obsrvations, have often provided a basis for local action. Thus, documenting sewage in streams has led to both repairs and an ordinance requiring inspection and repair of private sewer laterals when buildings are sold. Findings of chloramines (toxic to aquatic life) have led to various action regarding water-main breaks. (I should note that this work has been facilitated by the US EPA Region 9 lab, which has a great program of providing the lab work for properly gathered samples.) And observations and reports of obvious problems — photos and phone calls re stuff flowing down streams or storm drains — have led to appropriate action of various sorts.

All this is by way of saying that yes, monitoring seems a bit empty if it doesn’t lead to action. I am something of a contrarian in this, but I don’t think you need excellent data to do this. You do need to build relationships with local governments by making your reports in a non-accusatory way, following up politely but firmly; and sticking with it, for months or years. Potential weapons to be used include cc’ing regulators at higher levels or elected officials, media publicity, statements at public meetings, posting photos on the internet, ad campaigns, and the like.

I strongly recommend that you NOT start with an issue such as regulating what people can do on their land next to water bodies, unless someone else very powerful has put it on the agenda and you are in a position to influence the outcome. This is an extremely controversial and divisive issue; most volunteers are not in it because they like to fight with their neighbors. Even if everyone has good will, solutions are not easy to work out; rights and wrongs are far from clear.

Your monitoring and other data has probably has given you an idea of what some local problems are — nutrients from what sources? temperature? invasives? erosion? incision? heavy metals? “legacy” pollutants or new threats like pyrethroids? Find some smaller, specific ways to address one of more of those. Small successes, or even small failures from which you learn, will help you go on to larger things.

Susan Schwartz, president
Friends of Five Creeks


Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2007 13:08:50 -0500
From: Joan Martin
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local river protection

I certainly enjoyed talking to you at our MiCorps conference, Pete. I
got very few responses to this list-serve email and am forwarding them
to you.

Any thoughts about the implications of the silent response?



Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2007 11:43:54 -0700
From: Rich Schrader
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local river protection
Dear Pete, Joan, other fellow colleagues,

I am actively using effectiveness monitoring as a way to pull multiple stakeholders, including our state environment department (NMED), into community-based watershed protection. We are also directly linking our work to the No Child Left Inside movement  and the message is beginning to resonate as a high level frame (see the that people can understand.

Also you might go to and look at the data sharing project demo and the Data Sharing web page (pull down from the DATA tab on top). We will develop a project with Opensourcery and the Cimarron Watershed Alliance in the coming year for a watershed health database.

This is just the beginning.

In snowy Santa Fe & thanks for holding the space for the conversation

Rich Schrader

River Source
2300 W. Alameda, A6
Santa Fe, NM 87507


Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2007 13:12:03 -0600
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Moving committed volunteers to the next level – local
river protection

Joan, I am sorry that you didn’t get a better response to your important
question – I hope it wasn’t because I might’ve muddied the waters with
my follow-up question! I know one thing, it sure can’t be the question
you asked. Data, once collected, should be put to good use – otherwise,
why collect it? Undoubtedly, local applications will call for different
tactics in different situations; these may include both educating
landowners and local officials to work toward a consensus on water
quality protection, to “legal” measures in some instances such as using
data to draw attention to potential Clean Water Act/water quality
standards violations. Some of the key ideas expressed in your initial
email – adding an “action component” to volunteer monitoring, and
volunteers serving as “advisors” to their local officials – seem like
very important strategies.

I took a quick look at past issues of The Volunteer Monitor to see
whether this issue had been directly addressed. It looks as though
topics somewhat related to your question have been addressed; for
example, community outreach (fall 97, issue 9/2), the Clean Water Act
(spring 01, issue 13/1), and success stories (summer 02, issue 14/2).
Also, some of the issues focusing on partnerships (e.g. winter 03,
winter 04, summer 04). But regardless, it seems clear to me that
getting volunteers to comment on how they have gone about promoting
cleaner water through action using their own data is a very important
question that could use some fresh discussion. There have to be alot of
great ideas out there as to what has been effective and also what has
not worked. We can all learn from both. Let’s hope that some others
will jump in and we can re-start the discussion.

Thanks for raising this issue! Thanks also for passing along the
replies that you have received. And congratulations on all your
successes with the Huron River Watershed!

Talk soon,
Pete Jackson
U.S. EPA Region 5 Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator

Article 1

Silent Streams by Mary Battiata
from The Washington Post November 27, 2005

What follows is the text of an article that is relevant to the volunteer monitoirng world. It was published in the Washington Post on November 27, 2005 and was written by Mary Battiata. Linda Green forwded it to the CSREESVolMon Listserv November 30, 2005.

Silent Streams
Sprawl is threatening almost every stream in the country. But a rising citizens movement is trying to save one of our most important natural resources before it’s too late

It started with Cody the weimaraner. She needed long walks, which led to the creek, which revealed the trash, which led to the decision to clean up the trash, which led to the unearthing of the shopping cart and the migrating lawn chairs, among many other things God never meant to live in a stream. And that, in a roundabout way, is how Dan Radke, a 42-year-old telecommunications salesman and suburban father of two, found himself in ankle-deep water on a Saturday morning in August four years ago surrounded by dead eels. He’d never seen an eel before. Now there were hundreds of them, inert outcroppings of three-foot, green-gray fish strewn in tangled piles up and down the banks, like mounds of melted pipe. Though they didn’t know it yet, Radke and three neighbors had stumbled upon ground zero of what would become known around the neighborhood as the Golf Course Incident.

They had been deputized by Arlington County as citizen stream monitors just a few months earlier. They’d attended a couple of weekend classes to learn how to identify the tiny bugs that use the stream as a nursery.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Radke, who takes pains to explain that he is not an environmentalist. “I was a chemistry major in college, but I didn’t know you monitored the health of a stream by counting bugs.” That August morning four years ago, Radke and the others had risen early, collected buckets and nets and rubber boots and headed down to Donaldson Run to conduct their second bug census. They were feeling, if not like old hands, at least modestly confident.

They met near the stream, about a mile up from where it falls into the Potomac, south of Chain Bridge. They unfolded a small field table (a loaner from the county), a microscope (also the county’s), as well as a small TV tray, a white plastic dishpan, some ordinary kitchen ice cube trays and a stack of miniature plastic petri dishes. Then they stepped gingerly down the three-foot bank. They figured they’d net more of the specimens they’d caught the first time out — snails, aquatic worms, leeches and the comma-size larvae, or young, of the biting flies (black, deer and horse) and nonbiting flies (dragon, damsel, crane, caddis) that make up the lowest rung of the food chain for the stream’s fish and birds. They were hoping to see a crayfish, too. The little gray crayfish are the agile acrobats of the stream — frisky, large enough to see without a microscope and so hardy it’s almost impossible to kill them, short of running them over. At the other end of that hardiness spectrum were the so-called sensitive orders — the case-making caddis fly, for example. The presence of this kind of caddis fly would mean the stream’s health was robust.

Instead, as the monitors stepped into the water, they saw that the creek was littered with dead and dying crayfish, their tiny exoskeletons turning from shrimp-gray to white as they stopped taking in oxygen. Then they saw the eels. Eels hadn’t been discussed in the stream classes, but, as the monitors would soon learn, the shy, nocturnal American eel was perhaps the most exotic fish in local waters. Eels spend most of their long lives — from eight to 20 years — patrolling the shallow water under the lips of stream banks, preparing to make one spectacular swim, a journey of a thousand miles, all the way down to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. There they breed, and from there their tiny offspring, known as elvers, use one of nature’s most extraordinary, if little understood, homing instincts to return to the streams that their mothers set out from months before. To get home, elvers cross great obstacles, even slithering across short stretches of wet earth and pavement. They are the only fish in local waters that climb Great Falls. Many of the dead eels splayed along Donaldson Run that August morning were the direct descendants of eels that had swum that particular stretch of water in George Washington’s day and before.

Radke hiked upstream along the fence lines of several back yards, and saw that the eel kill extended for more than a block and a half.

“If you’d brought a dump truck out to pick them up, you would have filled it,” he said later. “It was obvious that something had killed everything.”

But what?

“There was no smell, the water was clear,” Radke said. “We didn’t know what to make of it.”

Shaken, and more than a little worried about the stream water on their hands and gloves and sneakers, the Donaldson Run monitors climbed back up the bank and debated what to do. They called the county’s environmental office but got an answering machine. Next, they tried the naturalist who’d trained them, a man named Cliff Fairweather, who told them to call the fire department. Within minutes, firetrucks, helicopters and hazmat vehicles from Arlington and Washington had converged where the creek crosses Military Road in Arlington and flows into National Park land. Hazmat teams followed the trail of dead eels up to the top of a ridgeline and the grounds of the Washington Golf & Country Club.

The mystery was soon solved. The country club was replacing its turf. To kill the old grass, and all of the weed spores in the ground, groundskeepers had been applying a powerful herbicide-fumigant called Basamid G. The instructions for using Basamid G warn that it must not be applied if there is forecast of heavy rain. They also recommend that the product be applied only in a bowl-like setting, where storm-water runoff is not likely.

Memories about the weather forecast for that August day in 2001 differ. County officials recalled that afternoon storms had been predicted. But a club officer later described the ensuing downpour as a “freak thunderstorm.” In any case, when the skies opened, contaminated rainwater washed down the hillside and into Donaldson Run and a neighboring creek and, from there, into the Potomac, a mile downstream.

The fire department quickly cordoned off the stream area with yellow police tape, and the golf club, by all accounts, quickly acknowledged responsibility. Within a few days, all of the government agencies with jurisdiction over streams and fish kills — from Arlington, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, as well as Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality — were meeting to investigate and to begin what would be a four-year process of assessing damage and considering fines. Down at the creek, meanwhile, the dead eels decomposed. “We sent e-mails out to the neighborhood association — ‘Don’t let your kids and dogs play in the water. Don’t let your dogs eat the fish,'” Radke said. “People started panicking: ‘What about the wildlife that eat it? What about the raccoons?'” But as Radke and the others already knew too well, Basamid G was only the latest in a long series of insults to Donaldson Run. It was a deadly and toxic shock, true, but also part of a much bigger problem with a much less exotic name, one that threatens every suburban and urban stream in the country, and one that would not be solved with yellow police tape.

That problem is pavement, and the way it has changed the ancient relationship between streams and rain. For most of human history, rain fell onto meadows, fields and forests, and sank slowly into the ground. In fact, most of the rain was intercepted by plants and tree leaves before it ever hit ground, and evaporated back into the air, eventually returning as rain again. (This is still the case in undeveloped areas — a forest after heavy rainfall is a remarkably dry place.) The small amount of rain that did reach the ground sank slowly down through layers of soil and rock until it reached the underground water table. From there it flowed laterally and downhill, still underground, toward streams, where it seeped into the streambeds and recharged the waterways from below. During a heavy storm, some rainwater might flow downhill on the ground’s surface, but that was the exception, not the rule.

Pavement has changed all that. Now, every time it rains, water that once would have been slowly absorbed into meadow or forest floor courses off roads and parking lots and roofs and into curb gutters and storm drains, which funnel it directly to the local creek, at a speed and a volume that, before development, a stream saw only during spectacular storms, the kind that occur once or twice a century. These storm-water surges, as they are called, work as giant routers, scouring out streambeds and banks, flushing away the dirt around the roots of trees along the stream banks, and washing away the small creatures that cling to stream rocks. Under this regular, relentless scouring, stream life is swept away, and the stream becomes little more than a biologically dead sluiceway.

Donaldson Run was well on the way to this fate long before the Golf Course Incident. Its banks were badly eroded, as high as 20 feet in places. The streambed had dropped three feet in the past 30 years, exposing sewer lines the county had buried decades earlier. The exposed sewer lines had been encased in concrete sleeves, but those were crumbling, too, under the relentless scouring. The roots of huge bank trees had been exposed, and, every month or two, a few more mighty oaks or poplars toppled into the water, their enormous root balls raised to the air like frazzled nerve endings. The center of the channel was choked with long sandbanks of silt and car-size dams of dead trees, their branches festooned with plastic bags and other litter.

Storm-water runoff now threatens virtually every suburban and urban stream in the country. Stream assessments made by county governments around the Beltway in the past five years have given the majority of local streams a grade of C-minus or less, and there have been plenty of F’s. (Donaldson Run was given a D.) Eighty percent of the 100,000 miles of streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are in similarly bad shape, according to local governments and the independent Center for Watershed Protection. Worldwide, streams and rivers are in worse shape than any other habitat, according to University of Maryland stream ecologist Margaret Palmer; the rate of species extinction in streams is five times higher than that of any other habitat and far exceeds that of land or ocean.

In case you are hoping that the problem is of concern only to nature lovers with an inexplicable fondness for miniature crustaceans, think again. A decade’s worth of new scientific research makes it clear that the problem of dying streams has direct and dire implications for the supply of clean drinking water. Streams are now understood to be the vital capillaries of the freshwater system. A healthy stream and the land, or watershed, around it, are a natural and irreplaceable filter for drinking water, a giant Brita. If that function were to be lost, the water that courses into the Potomac from local streams would be far dirtier, full of all the toxins that wash off roadways, things like cadmium and zinc from brake linings, as well as lawn fertilizer and other pollutants. Getting that water to a drinkable standard would be far more expensive than it is now, and would require treating the water with many more chemicals, each with its own cost in money and human health. Water bills in the Washington area already have been increasing for years to compensate for this, according to research by the Center for Watershed Protection.

There is a related danger, as well. In times of drought, streams deprived of the slow seep of underground water that has been absorbed through meadow and forest, slacken or dry up completely, no longer able to support the reservoir and river intakes that supply drinking water. Many policy experts predict that in the coming century, clean water will become as precious a commodity as oil is today, and that water wars, long a feature of the booming cities in the dry American Southwest, will become far more commonplace. Already, legal battles have begun in the Midwest, as far-flung towns with depleted water tables sue for the right to pump water from the Great Lakes. Without healthy streams to feed it, even the mighty Potomac, which supplies virtually all of the drinking water for the Washington area, would be stressed, though local water authorities have highly sophisticated water control systems in place to help prevent shortages of drinking water even during severe drought.

If the connection between streams and drinking water is direct, it is not particularly visible. In many suburban and city neighborhoods, more than half of the streams have been shunted into storm pipes and buried underground. Many people have no idea what stream their downspouts drain into, or the name of the larger stream or river to which their local stream flows. All of that information makes up what stream scientists call a “watershed address.” We all have one. A typical Washington watershed address starts with the nearest stream, then a larger creek — Donaldson Run, for example. Next is Donaldson Run’s destination, the Potomac River. And beyond that, the destination for the Potomac and all Washington area streams, Chesapeake Bay. But the connections are not widely understood, stream advocates say. Most people still believe, wrongly, that litter thrown into the ubiquitous corner storm drain (there are 10,000 of these in Arlington County alone) flows to a water treatment facility, rather than directly into a creek somewhere downstream.

As all of this has become better understood, the nation’s environmental and conservation groups have shifted their focus from the “big water” — oceans and rivers — that occupied them in the 1970s and ’80s, to streams. Washington area county governments also have begun paying closer attention, motivated by looming cleanup deadlines imposed by the regional Chesapeake Bay Agreements and the federal Clean Water Act. (The federal government has set a deadline of 2010 by which ailing Chesapeake Bay must be restored to a certain level of ecological health. If that deadline is not met, the states whose creeks are polluting the water will begin paying large fines.) Under that pressure, Arlington is just one of many counties in the region scrambling to take the measure of its streams — mapping its watersheds, measuring water quality. In the past four years, Arlington and other counties have hired biologists, hydrologists and civil engineers to draw up watershed management plans. Even Fairfax County, long seen by environmental activists and some politicians as indifferent to environmental concerns, has changed its tune, stream advocates say. Fairfax’s recent survey of its streams was unflinching, and it gave more than two-thirds of the county’s streams a rating of fair or poor. “At [county] board meetings now, the question is no longer whether streams matter, but rather, what are we going to do about it,” said Stella Koch, an official with the Audubon Naturalist Society and longtime stream advocate.

At the base of this pyramid of environmental activism is a steadily growing army of citizen volunteers. There are now more than 5,000 watershed- and stream-protection groups around the country, most of which have cropped up in the past decade. Washington has more of these groups than any other metropolitan area. There are 130 groups in this region, from Rock Creek to Hagerstown. Their roots go back to the 1960s, when a federal government worker named Rachel Carson, who lived near the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River, wrote a book called Silent Spring that became a call to arms and a touchstone for the emerging environmentalist movement.

The experience of Dan Radke and others at Donaldson Run is typical of the way the process has worked. Radke, worried about the stream and tired of picking up the trash by himself, first approached the county in the mid-1990s about setting up a stream-monitoring program similar to those he’d heard were underway in Montgomery and other counties. Nice idea, but no money, the county said. But within a few years, the county changed its mind, especially when it became clear that the cost of such a program was minimal.

Donaldson Run is also benefiting from another development in stream rescue, known as stream restoration. This fall, Donaldson Run is being bulldozed, scraped and otherwise altered beyond recognition, as part of a $1.5 million redesign that will raise the streambed, reroute the stream channel and replant its banks with several hundred saplings. It is the most extensive stream restoration ever attempted in Arlington County, and while its impetus was to protect the streambed’s crumbling sewer lines, its goals are more ambitious — to re-create the natural stream features erased by the “fire hose” effect of suburban storm water. (There have been 38,000 stream restorations around the country in the past two decades, with 3,700 of them in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.) “The idea that urban and suburban streams will ever be pristine again isn’t realistic, but, with better management practices, we will be able to get relatively good water quality,” said Mark Bryer, a monitor on a neighboring stream who, in his day job, directs Chesapeake Bay programs for the Nature Conservancy. “A stream like Donaldson Run can go from poor to fair, or fair to good.”

The Donaldson Run Civic Association was sufficiently convinced that it allocated the entire $25,000 of its county-funded capital improvement money to the project. But, like surgery, the process can be hard to watch.

“It is a little shocking,” citizen stream monitor Lucy Spencer admitted, standing by the upper reach of the stream’s main tributary. Bulldozers had carved a new S-shaped course, a giant slalom, into the formerly straight streambed. (The sinews were designed to slow down storm water in the way a twisting luge run can slow down a sled.) About 30 large trees, most of them already severely undermined by erosion, had been razed. The streambed itself had been built up and was now three feet higher than before. New, gently sloping banks were still bare but had been battened down with biodegradable netting, through which new grasses and shrubs would eventually sprout. The work was only partially completed, but already the stream looked radically different — sunnier, sweeter and far more accessible. The weedy ravine it had once resembled was a memory.

At 26 square miles, Arlington is the smallest county in America, but even so, even though the Donaldson Run monitors live within a few blocks of one another, they agree that if they hadn’t decided to take up stream monitoring, most of them might never have met. They certainly wouldn’t have worked alongside one another, gotten to know one another’s foibles and talents, and most certainly wouldn’t have done so at a weekend hour when most people are happy to have done nothing more strenuous than creep out of the house to collect the morning paper.

The group’s monitoring session this July was typical. The songbirds were trilling, and the Asian tiger mosquitoes weren’t too annoying yet, everyone noted with relief. The monitors had gathered early to beat the heat. By 10 a.m., bank stability, water temperature, overhead leaf cover and silt content had been measured and debated, and the consensus entered into the field book.

“Okay, folks,” team leader Anita Marx called out, her head bent over the field book. “Dominant vegetation — what have we got?”

“Well,” said Helen Lane, “I see stilt grass, I see daylilies –”

“We don’t need that detail,” Marx said quickly. A PhD candidate in stream science and not a morning person, Marx was the team leader. It was her job to keep the group from falling into pleasant but distracting, rambling conversations about hummingbird sightings and bridge repair.

“I see weeds, like wineberry,” Lucy Spencer, a sculptor and gardener, volunteered. She raised her head and sniffed.

“I think there’s a dead animal in the woods this morning,” she said to the group. “Can you smell it?”

Marx interrupted again. “Okay, so do we have much in the way of shrubs?” she said, sounding a little pained. With her short hair, cargo shorts, T-shirt and black rubber kayaking shoes, Marx looked at least a decade younger than her 49 years, but she was more bleary-eyed than anyone else on the team. For months she had been working days and staying up until 3 a.m. writing her dissertation. Except for when it was strictly necessary, she generally tried not to interact with the world until after noon. Marx had studied science in college and then drifted into a computer science career but came back to the natural world, and to graduate school, a few years ago. “I decided life was more interesting than computers,” she said.

Marx grew up in Arlington in the 1960s and ’70s, and her subdivision’s creek, she said, “was the only interesting thing in the neighborhood.” Her street drained into Little Pimmit Run. More than half of the stream had already been buried by the ’70s. But the stretch still above ground was full of minnows and tadpoles.

“I think the world would be awfully lonely without other creatures,” she said. “It’s partly because they’re mysterious. They’re something we didn’t create. Cars and computers aren’t mysterious; they’re useful, but not mysterious. But these creatures are.”

And because streams’ utility to us is as yet only partially understood, losing their inhabitants seems like a bad idea. “Life on Earth evolved to be interdependent, and we don’t fully understand those relationships yet,” Marx said. “We don’t really know what we can do without. Each of the pieces has a different function — soil absorbs groundwater, which people drink. Plants produce oxygen, so we can breathe. We eat the fish, which eat much smaller things. So you need the whole web. For me, being out on the creek gives a sense of completion.”

Which is why the Golf Course Incident was so upsetting. “I mean, bottom line: It killed everything,” she said. “We’ve never gotten any crayfish again. All we get these days are the larvae of flying insects, who fly in from other areas and deposit their eggs.”

Once the group had gauged the state of Donaldson Run’s vegetation, Marx dropped tiny tablets into clear vials of creek water to test levels of phosphate and dissolved oxygen, both markers of how much lawn fertilizer had washed into the stream since the previous census. Meanwhile, Radke crouched over the water and kneaded the undersides of softball-size stream cobbles to work loose some insect larvae (which would be returned to the stream later).

Spencer, Lane and another neighbor, Larry Finch, head of the neighborhood civic association, all of them in their seventies, lamented, not for the first time, that their knees and their eyes were not what they once were. “We could use some younger monitors,” Lane observed. “Their eyes are so much keener.”

But what they did have was institutional memory; the long view.

“The water’s flowing fast this morning, really clean,” Finch said.

“Well, we had three inches of rain this week,” said Lane. “That’s a gully washer. Turns the stream into a storm sewer. And every time we get a gully washer, we lose a few trees.”

“We’d love to find a crayfish this morning,” Spencer said wistfully.

“When we moved in, in 1966, we often would see crayfish along the stream,” Finch said. He hasn’t seen crayfish in those numbers for decades.

Radke’s children splashed in the water downstream, near where an artificial reef of gray boulders had been installed three years ago to stem erosion. Instead, the reef, known as riprap and operating like a pinball flipper, simply redirected the water to the opposite bank, where it proceeded to gouge an even deeper divot out of the creek’s flank.

“Ladies,” Marx called out to Spencer and Lane, her head bent over the microscope. “Anybody got anything for me yet?” Having scraped the required number of samplings from under stream rocks, in stream pools and in the ruffled currents known as riffles — the monitors now emptied the nets into a white plastic dishpan filled with two inches of creek water. They began poking around the pan with tweezers, lifting out tiny bits of leaf debris, in search of even smaller larvae. When they found a likely suspect, they sucked it up with an eyedropper and squirted it into a chamber of an empty plastic ice cube tray.

“See that bug?” Radke said to his daughter as they leaned over one of the trays. “They’re swimming. Swim, swim, swim!”

From their plastic ice cube corrals the larvae were transferred once more into miniature plastic petri dishes or directly onto the glass slide under the microscope lens.

“Does a caddis fly mean the water’s good?” Spencer called out as she looked through the scope at a tiny black squiggle.

Marx came over to have a look. “Not that kind of caddis fly,” she said. Then she squinted again. “What we have here is a mayfly,” she announced. The insect was duly noted on the day’s count sheet. The work went on.

Four years after their first meeting, most of the monitors have a hard time remembering where they saw the recruiting notice that brought them here. Spencer thinks it was a local newsletter. Marx, an Audubon Naturalist Society bulletin. But all of them can remember precisely what impelled them to venture out to that first meeting.

Spencer, a Tennessee native who has been in Arlington for 31 years, minus stints in Peru and the Middle East during her husband’s State Department career, had been a gardener and led her daughters’ Camp Fire Girl groups.

“I said, Okay, in 10 years I am going to be 80. So what are these next 10 years going to be about?” The streams of Middle Tennessee had been a big part of her childhood. Back then, before the paper companies began clearcutting the local forests and overwhelming the streams with runoff from eroded hillsides, her family had spent Sundays by the water. “The water was so clear, my grandfather used to throw coins in, and we’d swim around trying to find them.” As an adult stationed in the Middle East, she’d seen how frightening it could be when clean water was scarce.

“This stream has connected me to this place in a way I’d never been connected before,” she said. “I’m not a committee person, but now I feel I’m really part of a community. I come here almost every day now. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but this is the thing I’ve stuck with the longest.”

Dan Radke’s romance with local streams started in the early 1980s, soon after he moved to Washington from Pittsburgh after college. He and some friends rented a group house near Spout Run, and from there Radke began to explore the local network of stream valley parks. He found a job, and then acquired a puppy, Cody. She expanded his hiking range considerably. They went out for long walks twice a day, eventually hiking all of the streams, or runs, that course down to the Potomac from North Arlington’s rocky palisades. (The word “run” comes from the Old English “rundle,” which means a stream that runs down over a gently sloping bed lined with smooth rock, or cobbles.) Around the time he got married, Radke moved closer to Donaldson Run and began to notice the trash. It was hard to miss. Each rainstorm swept new piles of paper, plastic and other debris into the creek, where the trash snagged on branches and otherwise did not go away. He began bringing trash bags along on his hikes and filling them, but soon had too much trash to carry out by himself. He called the county, which referred him to an overworked Parks and Recreation person. “But we agreed that if I collected the trash, they would come and pick it up.”

As connected to the stream as he had become, Radke couldn’t help but notice the other problems — the erosion, the toppled trees. When he first brought that to the county’s attention, in the mid-1990s, the response was tepid. There was no money and no one on staff who was responsible for stream health. But in 1999, the county’s environmental department hired a young environmental scientist named Jason Papacosma to assess the health of Arlington’s streams. Within a few months, Radke and Papacosma had met with Cliff Fairweather, a stream specialist at the Audubon Naturalist Society, to talk about putting together Arlington’s first stream-monitoring program. Fairweather had been instrumental in setting up several citizen monitoring groups in the D.C. area and in instructing group leaders, including county officials such as Aileen Winquist, an Arlington environmental planner who has gone on to manage many monitoring teams and their data. (The state Soil and Water Conservation District office in Northern Virginia and the conservation group Save Our Streams also have trained stream monitors.) Ask many stream-monitoring groups in the area about their early days, and, often as not, Fairweather’s name will come up.

It is not unusual for one person to be so influential, said Maryland stream ecologist Margaret Palmer, who has examined stream restoration projects across the country.

“Sometimes it can be traced to one person who has been incredibly active,” Palmer said. “Sometimes it just takes one person.”

It was spring and a fine day for bug hunting. Cliff Fairweather was walking down a narrow, grassy path toward a small jewel of a stream called Margaret’s Branch, just outside the town of Clifton in southwestern Fairfax County. In 15 years with the Audubon Naturalist Society, Fairweather has taught hundreds of stream monitors how to identify a healthy stream. Mild-mannered, with eyeglasses that keep sliding down his nose, he has the distracted mien of a professor of the open air, a detective appraising the earth through field glasses. Fairweather is an interpretive naturalist, which means he is a kind of translator who makes the mysteries of the natural world readily understandable to non-specialists. He refers to his insect specimens as “pickled bugs” and in the field frequently interrupts himself to point out anything interesting. “Tiger swallowtail!” he called out, pointing to a yellow flash of butterfly wings. “Ruby-crowned kinglet over there,” he added a moment later, pointing to a grove of trees and mimicking the bird’s call.

“There’s been a kingfisher real active around here the last few days,” he said, making his way toward the creek, his worn canvas hiking boots making squishing sounds in the marshy ground. “We’ve got some red-shouldered hawks . . . those birds you hear now are white-footed sparrows and some junkoes, I think. And the Louisiana waterthrush — confusing name, it’s actually a warbler — has arrived from down South. They use the stream, too.”

Fairweather came to his present calling after more than a decade working for a defense contractor, doing historical research on the atmospheric nuclear testing program. “Took me 15 years to find out what I wanted to do in life,” he said cheerfully. But he’d always been an ardent amateur naturalist. Growing up in Alexandria in the 1960s and ’70s, he’d spent hours each week down at the local stream. It was always the first place his mother sent for him when he couldn’t be found.

Fairweather’s classes are free and open to all comers, and Margaret’s Branch is his outdoor classroom. With its banks shaded by tall tulip poplars, Margaret’s Branch looks like a picture postcard mailed from the 18th century. Its streambed is no wider than two feet in most places and is cosseted by shallow banks tufted with grasses and flowering weeds. It meanders through a 20-acre nature sanctuary, a former working farm donated to the Audubon Naturalist Society, one of the oldest conservation groups in the D.C. area and the nation.

“Most people get into this without any background in ecology, and it opens up a whole new world to them,” Fairweather said, setting his buckets and other teaching gear down with a clank, beside the stream. “I’ve seen workshops where people are getting their first exposure, and in minutes they are really hooked. A lot of it is the appeal of the stream creatures. They are beautiful. And they have some adaptations for survival that really captivate people.”

He crouched over the water. The case-making caddis fly fascinates, Fairweather said, lowering his net, because it alone among all the aquatic insects uses small bits of gravel, sand, bark to build an intricate stone wall around its lower body. Under a field microscope, the wall appeared to be made of multicolored “bricks,” like the form-stone facade of a Baltimore rowhouse.

In addition to becoming familiar with the basics of stream biology — the life cycles of benthic macroinvertebrates, or stream bugs — stream monitors also, inevitably, learn about geology, engineering, hydrology and other fields that make up the science of how streams behave.

“When you start getting a lot of storm water, and it starts cutting into the creek, the channels change to accommodate,” Fairweather said. Unstable banks collapse and take shade trees with them. The stream’s course widens and straightens. The water heats up. Storm surges race through, leaving behind a layer of silt that suffocates all the stream creatures that haven’t been washed away.

“There are all kinds of creeks in Alexandria like that. Cabin John Creek in Maryland is becoming like that. We had to abandon one monitoring site up there because there were no bugs to see.”

Even in Washington’s outer suburbs, where smaller amounts of pavement might seem to leave streams less stressed, the damage by storm-water runoff is accumulating. A short walk from Margaret’s Branch, the banks of Popes Head Creek show clear signs of stress, even though they are surrounded by green fields and horses cantering along a trail on the opposite bank. The problem is that the creek’s headwaters, five miles north, are surrounded by suburban sprawl. The stream runs through many subdivisions before it gets to Clifton. It is 15 to 20 feet wider than it was 100 years ago, and the streambed has dropped several feet.

Scientists and watershed planners refer to the amount of paved ground in a watershed as its “impervious” rating. The skyscraper canyons of Rosslyn, for example, have an impervious rating of 60 to 70 percent, while in the rest of Arlington, an older inner suburb, it is about 40 percent. The neighborhoods immediately around Donaldson Run are about 25 percent impervious. One paved acre of land throws off 16 times more water than a one-acre meadow does.

Once the impervious rating in a watershed climbs much over 10 to 15 percent, the stream that drains it begins to wash away. When the impervious rating is 55 percent, the variety of stream creatures drops by 90 percent, and sensitive species disappear entirely.

Historically, stream health has not figured in local government decisions about development. But that is changing. This year, for example, the Potomac Watershed Roundtable, a new coalition of Northern Virginia watershed planners led by Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross, sent the state legislature a proposal to give local governments the power to pass tree conservation ordinances. Such ordinances would establish a link, for the first time, between the storm-water management fees paid by housing developers and the number of trees they preserve. (Incentives like that would have helped western Fairfax County’s severely degraded Little Rocky Run, where citizens spent a long weekend planting 300 trees along the creek only to learn that elsewhere in their watershed, at the very same time, a developer had clearcut 10,000, an entire forest.) But the very vocal dismay and ongoing activism of the Friends of Little Rocky Run and the group’s founder Ned Foster have been an important goad, local officials said, an incentive to get things right. In fact, prodded by a combination of new science, citizen awareness and federal and state clean water laws, local governments are slowly realizing that a healthy stream can be as valuable a real estate asset as good schools or adequate roads, said Diane Hoffman, head of the state’s influential Soil and Water Conservation District office in Northern Virginia. Stream science is now so solid and irrefutable, and the understanding of it so widespread, that even the decades’ old logjam among environmentalists, local governments and development interests is beginning to break loose.

“It’s not just the Chesapeake Bay anymore,” said Fairweather. “People want their local stream to be decent. That’s a big shift from 10 years ago. Back then, streams were just kind of there, and there wasn’t this focus on ecology. The question now is: Would you rather have a healthy stream running through the neighborhood, or a storm-water ditch that the kids can’t play in and your dog gets sick if it licks it?”

“We’re in the early heart-transplant era of stream restoration,” said Tom Schueler of the Center for Watershed Protection. “It’s still as much an art as a science. We have a lot of technology, but not all of the patients survive.”

The blueprint for the Donaldson Run project was three years in the making, and its many pages unfurl to cover the table in a meeting room. Its planners have high hopes for it, but evaluating its success will be subjective because there is, as yet, no objective scientific standard by which to evaluate the effectiveness of stream restoration projects. To that end, an international team of scientists, led by the University of Maryland’s Margaret Palmer and known collectively as the National River Restoration Science Synthesis Project, is working to develop just such a tool.

But there is one local stream restoration project that appears to have been a success. It is Kingstowne, named after a nearby townhouse development in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. There, a 1,000-foot stretch of badly damaged stream, a tributary of Dogue Creek, has been raised from the nearly dead. The project was funded by county, state and federal agencies and two citizen groups as a test case five years ago. Today, the creek’s newly contoured banks sway with grasses, and minnows and water bugs dart through the sparkling water. But only half of the stream’s course was reconstructed. The other half continues to deteriorate.

The price for saving a creek in this way is not cheap. Stream restoration can cost from $200 to $600 a linear foot. The cost of restoring Fairfax’s badly eroded Little Hunting Creek, for example, is estimated at $35 million, and “that’s not to get it back to some beautiful pristine waterway,” said Fairweather. “That’s just to make it reasonably healthy and clean.”

Because of the cost, restoration may not be an option for many ailing streams in America, stream ecologists agree. So ecologists and watershed planners are pushing something called “low-impact design,” a variety of systems to catch storm water before it gets to the corner storm drain. These systems include everything from planting “green roofs” of rain-thirsty vegetation, which captures rain-water and insulates the building below, to attaching rain barrels to downspouts and conserving water for lawn and garden use. In Fairfax County, local planners are working with state conservationists to retrofit the 55-acre former Lorton federal prison complex — soon to be an arts center — with the latest in storm-water containment technologies. Some are surprisingly low-tech, like simply cutting up massive parking lots into smaller islands of asphalt that allow for wedges of absorbent green space in between. All of these are improvements on the often weed-choked, now discredited “storm-water management ponds” that were installed in countless subdivisions, shopping centers and office parks during the 1970s and ’80s.

In the end, however, storm-water containment systems can only do so m

require realistic planning to leave enough absorbent green space between the ever-expanding acres of pavement.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed has enough pavement to park 116 million cars. Many local streams already are severely stressed by storm-water runoff, and the watershed’s human population is expected to grow by 4 million in the next 25 years. “We’re improving our game all the time,” Schueler said, “but we can’t keep up with sprawl.”

Early this month, Donaldson Run was a royal mess, as planned. The project was one-third completed. The stream was being dammed in 200-foot sections, the water in between sucked out and pumped downstream to make way for backhoe operators and bulldozer drivers, who maneuvered their equipment in surprisingly balletic pirouettes, scooping dirt from one area of the streambed and patting it into place elsewhere. Staircases of U-shaped stone waterfalls intended to slow the flow were laid at intervals into the streambed, which had been raised several feet and was now within spitting distance of the banks and surrounding flood plain.

Meanwhile, four years of negotiations among the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Golf & Country Club about compensation for the eel kill and other damages were nearing completion. A draft of the settlement was published in the Federal Register last month and was expected to be finalized in federal court soon. In the settlement, the club agrees to pay $145,000 for damages, including “substantial mortality of fish and American eels and virtual elimination of smaller aquatic organisms immediately downstream” from the herbicide’s release.

Bob Mortenson, a past president of the club, said it was a moment of chagrin for the oldest golf and country club in Virginia, one whose fairways have hosted everyone from President Woodrow Wilson to the White House surgeon of Theo-dore Roosevelt. The groundskeeper, who has since retired, “didn’t sleep for weeks afterward,” Mortenson said. “When you’re a groundskeeper, you’re responsible for growing stuff. You want to make sure it stays alive.”

The Donaldson Run monitors carried out their quarterly census, as planned, last month. They set up shop well downstream of the restoration. They didn’t find too much — some aquatic worms, a caddis fly, some black flies. There was no sign of eels. They wouldn’t be out in the daytime anyway. But they are never far from anyone’s mind. It is hoped they will repopulate, because the upper half of the stream was untouched by Basamid spill.

Nothing out of the ordinary on the zoological front, they reported. But the stream was another matter entirely. Seeing so many of the big old trees along the stream banks gone — about 110 have been razed — had been a bit of a wrench. For as long as anyone could remember, a walk along Donaldson Run had been an amble in dappled shade. Now, it was a walk in the bright sunlight. And it would be that way for several years, at least, until the fastest-growing saplings, now protected by deer fence, have had a chance to grow up.

Spencer was out walking the other day up by the mouth of the pipe where the stream’s main tributary emerges from the ground, not far from its natural spring. The ground was corrugated with bulldozer tire tracks, and straw had been sprinkled around to clot the mud. An orange plastic construction fence had been put up to keep the curious out of harm’s way. But Spencer had let herself in a few times to have a look around. That’s how she happened to see the frog. She’s pretty sure it was a frog, and not a toad. It was sitting near the lip of the storm pipe, which had been plugged by a temporary rock dam and was almost dry.

“I’ve been walking this stream for 31 years, and I’ve never seen a frog. I’ve asked around — nobody’s ever seen a frog,” Spencer said. She still sounded elated several weeks after the sighting. “This means the water is pure enough that a frog could live here.”

Even though she knew she shouldn’t interfere, she couldn’t help herself that day. She went over to the dam and lifted one small stone, to let a trickle of water through.

“I just hope the pumps didn’t suck the frog up,” she said, doubtfully. Then she brightened.

“But you see, that’s why this is so fine — all of this,” she said, throwing her hand, in a wave that took in the whole scene — the debris and the dirt, the bulldozers and jagged tree stumps. “All of this will be worth it,” she said. “We’ll make it worth it. A real stream is a wonderful thing.”

Mary Battiata is a Magazine staff writer.

Question 10

Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 12:59 PM
Subject: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment

Our Ohio monitoring program has a problem that has probably plagued most programs at some time. How do you get volunteers to return equipment? Our program is statewide and training is done through regional sessions. We provide kits at these meetings to anyone that expresses interest, a sizable fraction of whom never use the kits.

Our “kit” is now running as high as $80+ dollars and we need them back. We have talked about charging for the kit, requiring a refundable deposit, and begging them to return them. We don’t have the staff to later visit each non-participating volunteer individually and put our hand out for the equipment. There’s got to be a better way.

I would appreciate any suggestions that have worked for you.


Responses to Question 10

Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 1:22 PM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment


This is indeed an issue we have. We have actually implemented some steps to not actually provide equipment until individuals jump through a few cursory hoops in addition to the training we provide.

However, for those that have the equipment we took a multi-step approach.

1) Use a “media blitz” to inform folks about wanting unused equipment. We took the approach of dollars and cents and that these pieces of equipment could be returned and refurbished and provided to volunteers wanting to use it…saving the Program a substantial amount of money.

2) We took a more direct approach by looking at the database to see who has been trained vs. who has submitted data. If we noticed individuals haven’t turned in data for 2-3 years we contacted them and took the approach of seeing why. A lot of times, they had all intentions, just felt overwhelmed and hadn’t gone out yet. This provided us a great opportunity to remotivate them. However, if they let us know they no longer wanted to, or were not able to monitor, we worked on getting the equipment returned.

3) We encouraged the return of equipment to happen in a couple ways:
a. Drop off equipment at any of our training sessions, meetings, etc.

b. Drop off equipment at any of the sponsoring agencies’ Regional or Satellite offices.

i. This required coordination with these offices that the equipment being returned was not hazardous material and should be returned to Program staff at our offices.

ii. It also required individuals label the equipment as “Returned Stream Team Equipment; Return to [INSERT STAFF MEMBER]”

c. Volunteers could contact us and we would send them a pre-paid mailer. They could then simply pack everything up into a box, put the sticker on it, and send it back to us by U.S. Mail. This is something that our mailroom already had set up, making it pretty easy to take advantage of.

We have been pretty successful in being able to get equipment returned, refurbished, and loaned to volunteers that are able to go out and collect data.

Hope this helps!!


Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 1:26 PM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment


Thinking back to when I was a volunteer program coordinator….

1) Have the volunteers come and pick up the rental equipment, that way you know they are serious or they wouldn’t come in to get the stuff. Maybe bringing the equipment to them is making it too easy for them – everyone loves a “handout”, and even with the best of intentions they often wind up not making it a priority. (It sounded like fun at the time…) With my old program, many of our volunteers picked up their gear. We would try and accommodate them when they had attended the trainings, adopted one or more sites, etc. but always after the training. Followup was required on their part prior to the equipment loanout, so we knew they were serious by that point. I think handing out equipment at the training is the fatal flaw here.

2) Loan the equipment out for a finite period, e.g. two weeks. Make it clear to them that you need it back to loan out to other volunteers. (If you were desperate you could even add a small late charge for equipment that is say over a week late.)

3) You could set a policy where they would be required to pay $80 for the kit if not returned by the end of field season.

I recommend all of the above.


Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 1:57 PM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment


Here in California, when I was working for the State, we created an equipment lending library and tracked each Instrument separately.
As many of you know, the Clean Water Team had a unique Instrument ID for each probe and wet-chemistry kit and a master Equipment Inventory spreadsheet that listed all of the Instruments we owned. When a watershed group (or an individual volunteer) needed to borrow anything, they had to fill out a Lending Form with their name, contact information, the unique Instrument IDs of what they took, and the duration of use. Then they signed the form, and we updated our spreadsheet with the whereabouts of each Instrument.
Recovery was usually successful, unless the Instrument was damaged or lost.

I hope this sounds useful.

PS: The unique instrument ID is also the basis for the Data Quality Management (DQM) system that allows our groups to deliver data of known and documented quality. It provides the easiest way to connect a set of monitoring results with the outcomes of quality checks done for the Instrument that was used to collect those results. (Much) more at

always look forward with hope


Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 2:01 PM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment

I’d like to know if anyone from a state or federal program has been able
to charge a “late fee.” I would like to do so but I don’t have a way to
manage the money.


Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 3:34 PM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment

Like all volunteer monitoring groups, we have this problem from time to time. Our kits cost upward of $500 and it is a drag when we lose one and the number of samplers in our statewide program is small (around 125 sites).

If, at the end of the season I don’t have a volunteer’s samples, I’ll contact them and see what the deal is. Since I circle the state (Missouri) at least 2 or 3 times a season, it’s not a problem for me to arrange to pick up the supplies. I’ve also used University Extension offices, state agency offices, county park offices, resorts, marinas, senior centers, etc. as drop off sites for equipment and water samples. I’ll call and arrange things first with the business owner/office manager, but they usually are amenable to the notion. Then I just pick up the stuff later and don’t have to be too specific about the time of day.

You might have another volunteer near the “delinquent” water sampler. Heck, they might even know each other. The current volunteer could bring you the delinquent volunteer’s stuff at their convenience.

It’s all pretty labor-intensive stuff, though. Easily justified for $500, considerably less so for $80.


Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 9:26 PM
Subject: Re: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment

I am a volunteer for the Missouri Stream Team.  I do not have any plans to give back monitoring equipment they gave me to the Mo. stream Team program. I plan to keep on monitoring the creek I monitor till I die. Have a great day see you in the stream.

PS: I’ve been monitoring the creek for over 15 years.


Date: Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 8:14 AM
Subject: RE: [volmonitor] Return of monitoring equipment

We lose some every year too, usually folks who sign up, go thru training and then never monitor.

At the start of the season we have volunteers sign a log sheet and check off each piece of equipment they get. At the end of the season they fill out a similar sheet, checking off what they have returned. This has helped considerably, and we know who to try to track down, tho I admit we are not so good at follow-thru. If someone who is not a volunteer wants to borrow monitoring supplies for another project, such as a science fair project, I have a parent give me a check (not made out to me) for at least twice the value of what I am lending out. I tell the parent that I will hold the check until the equipment has been returned. That has worked 100%. On occasion someone cleans out their garage and returns long-ago equipment. We have also had drop offs at Town Halls, watershed organization HQ’s etc.

Our worst failure was a HS science teacher to whom we supplied 4 kits, each worth >$200. We never heard from him again, ever. We tried to contact him multiple times. We even tried calling the HS principal, no luck, tho we heard the students loved using the equipment. Years later his by-then ex-wife became a volunteer. Once we found out that she was an ”ex” we told her what had happened. She was not surprised and said he’d retired.

Good luck!