Community Monitoring 101

What is "Community Water Monitoring"?

You may have heard of citizen science or volunteer monitoring, but the expression community monitoring may be new to you. There is actually a distinction between these terms. We use the term community monitoring as an inclusive term that includes both citizen science and volunteer monitoring activities.


Research that is initiated and managed by non-agency volunteers.


Public participation in professionally-driven scientific research.

Community-Based Monitoring

All-inclusive term that we are using to encompass both volmon and citsci!

Community-based water monitoring programs have existed in New Jersey for decades. Formalized programs, like The Watershed Institute’s StreamWatch volunteer water monitoring program, were developed in the early 1990s to provide a more focused picture of water quality in streams and lakes that were not regularly monitored by the state.

Generally beginning as environmental education and advocacy initiatives, many monitoring groups have expanded over the years to share the same high-quality monitoring methods as New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection staff. The biennial Integrated Report is designed to summarize the conditions of all of New Jersey’s waterways, however monitoring on this scale can be improved by leveraging resources and extending partnerships. High-quality community-based monitoring data can fill these spatial and temporal gaps, providing a clearer picture from which subwatershed assessments can be made.


Uses of Volunteer Collected Data

  • Environmental Education and Citizen Stewardship

    At the most basic level, water monitoring is a great way to engage and teach local citizens about their environment. Connecting people with their environment will encourage them to protect it.

  • Municipal Action

    Want to advocate for stronger environmental regulations in your town, like stream buffer widths or a single-use plastics ban? Hard data is an effective tool that can strengthen your argument.

  • Measure Restoration Project Effectiveness

    Green infrastructure is popular these days, but how do we know that it's working? Monitoring before and after restoration project installation can provide strong metrics of success.

  • Target Additional Monitoring Efforts

    If community monitoring data highlights a potential pollutant hot spot or even a spectacularly pristine stream reach, state agency staff can confirm these results by conducting additional monitoring work using high quality instrumentation.

  • Report Card Development

    Long-term continual baseline monitoring provides trend data that can illuminate gradual changes in water quality and ecosystem health. Report cards are an easy way for the public to digest this type of scientific information.

  • Integrated Report

    The Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report is an EPA-mandated exercise that all states must undergo every two years to present a comprehensive review of current water quality conditions. Only data of known, documented, and high quality may be used for assessment in this report, which can certainly include data collected by trained volunteers.

Conditions and Needs of Community Monitoring Groups

In late 2011 and early 2012, the Extension Volunteer Monitoring Network (EVMN) conducted a needs assessment of volunteer water monitoring programs across the United States. USEPA’s Volunteer Monitoring listserv and the Extension Volunteer Monitoring Network’s listserv were used to solicit responses. The survey asked about programs’ beginnings, ongoing activities and existing needs. The 103 respondents from 41 states represented 94 unique programs.

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