Volunteers Team Up to Cover the Bay

Dec 29, 2023

Water quality monitors collect samples in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

When it comes to tracking water quality, it takes a lot to cover Chesapeake Bay, one of the largest estuaries in the United States. More than 150 rivers and streams flow into the Bay’s 64,000 acre watershed, nurturing a regional fishing economy that produces about 500 million pounds of seafood each year. 

With nutrient pollution and climate impacts combining to threaten bay’s ecosystems, businesses, communities, and residents need current and accurate water quality data. That’s why Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve is partnering with the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative (CMC), a network of community and volunteer-based monitoring programs, to empower community members to monitor new areas and fill in important data gaps. 

“There are over 130 community science organizations involved in this effort and together they’ve collected more than 800,000 samples from over 2,000 locations throughout the Bay watershed,” says David Parrish, environmental data center manager at the Virginia Reserve. 

“We have people participating from all over the Bay,” says Liz Chudoba, water quality monitoring initiative director at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and project manager for the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative. “Some have been doing this for a long time, and others are just ramping up. Typically, we find that a connection to a waterway and a desire to protect it are what drives participation, but some people just want to get outside and explore a new place.”

RiverTrends program volunteers process dissolved oxygen samples.

With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program, Parrish and his colleagues at the Reserve have developed a database and web application that serves all of this community data up for the public and resource managers. It is used at the state and regional levels for water quality assessment reports and by community members to advocate for local ordinances to protect local waterways, inform recreational activities, and detect illicit discharges from stormwater and sewer systems. Some of this work is captured in case studies on the CMC’s website.

Ultimately, all of the data collected by the CMC network are uploaded to the Chesapeake Bay Program and connected with other data sets from the Reserve, states, and other partners in order to better understand the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

“We aim to help unite community science monitoring efforts across the bay’s watershed in a way that elevates awareness and access to these data,” says Parrish. “Easing access to the results of these monitoring efforts helps to empower individuals as stewards of their local waters, build a sense of community across programs, and provide the public, scientists, and resource managers with valuable information about the health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

A RiverTrends monitor taking a sample.

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