Water Quality Monitoring Program

Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Program


Engaging Citizens

Water Quality Data

The goal of the Water Quality Monitoring Program is to establish at least a four-year baseline of water quality on the streams and rivers within our service area.

The baseline data will be used to determine the overall health of watersheds and troubled spots will be investigated. The Superior Rivers Watershed Association and other data users can then make more informed decisions on supporting proposals concerning land use, conservation efforts and other projects to preserve the vital habitat and water quality of the watersheds.  Continual monitoring should then be able to detect changes to water quality in the future.

The objectives to reach this goal:

1. To collect baseline data on several points of the major tributaries. Data to be collected consists of basic water chemistry (temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, chloride and turbidity), biological assessment using macroinvertebrates, and physical characteristics.

2. To get local citizens involved with their watershed by monitoring water quality.

The major subwatersheds are sampled at several possible locations on the major tributary – headwaters, mid-length and near its mouth. This plan enables the capture of minimal water quality data.  As the program expands and volunteers are added, more sites are added. The sampling sites are chosen according to the information the site can give about the watershed (headwaters, below confluences, upstream/downstream of possible sites of impact) and the possibility of safe convenient access for the volunteers.

Citizen Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring

Our service area: the Lake Superior Basin

We began our volunteer citizen water quality monitoring in 2002 as the Bad River Watershed Association. Every year, dozens of members of our community serve as volunteer water quality monitors, collecting water quality samples from rivers and streams in the Lake Superior basin.

Our chemistry monitors collect monthly chemistry samples from their sites year-round. These samples include physical and chemical measurements including temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, chloride, and turbidity. These physical and chemical measurements help us collect snapshots of water quality at a given time and place.

Our macroinvertebrate monitors collect small aquatic organisms (macroinvertebrates) once in the spring and once in the fall. Volunteer macroinvertebrate identification volunteers then assist with sorting and identifying these organisms. Macroinvertebrates vary in their tolerance of water pollution, and their number and type of organisms which live in a stream give us a good indication of the water quality over a longer period of time.

Water Quality Data

The Superior Rivers Watershed Association has been collecting volunteer water quality data since 2002. Much of that data is available to the public through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS) Database. We also produce water quality reports as grant and donation funding allow. We want every volunteer to know and see the fruits of their labor and all citizens to understand the quality of the water around them. We want our data to empower our citizens to be stewards of their watershed.

Our data also serves as an important tool for professionals, decision-makers, and community members. An important example of our water quality data in use occurred in October 2006, when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) approved the designation of forty-four northern stream segments as Exceptional Resource Waters (ERW) or Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW).  Originally, streams in the Bad River watershed were not considered for these designations due to lack of information. Our macroinvertebrate sample data was submitted to the Wisconsin DNR to demonstrate that many of the waters we sample deserve this special designation.  As a result, several rivers in the watershed were added to the ORW/ERW list.

The Bad River Watershed

2021 Bad River Watershed Wide Report Card