Volunteer scientists reach milestone

Waterwatch volunteers across the region have reached an important milestone – they have submitted their 25,000th water quality record since the citizen science program started in 1995.

Almost half have been collected in the last four years, since ACT Healthy Waterways provided additional funding.

Waterwatch coordinator Woo O’Reilly says the investment allowed the program to recruit and train more volunteers and expand the number of testing sites.

“We now have over 200 volunteers conducting more than 2000 surveys at around 250 sites every year,” said O’Reilly.

Each survey reports on seven different water quality parameters: pH, electrical conductivity, turbidity, phosphorous, nitrates, dissolved oxygen and temperature. Volunteers do all the sampling, testing and recording on site.

“As far as possible, the same people test at the same sites to ensure consistency over time. Waterwatch volunteers can get quite attached to their site and really invest in the results. They are often the first to notice important changes, not only in the water but also in the environment surrounding their site,” said O’Reilly.

It takes about an hour to complete the testing at each site and volunteers generally visit monthly. They also conduct biennial checks on riparian areas (river or stream banks) and seasonal surveys like frogs or bug counts.

“Our volunteers are making a huge contribution to our understanding of waterways and what impacts on water quality,” said O’Reilly.

The data is collated on an annual basis into the Catchment Health Indicator Program report (CHIP). Traditionally released at the end of each financial year, Waterwatch is switching to a calendar year reporting cycle which means the next CHIP report card is now due in January.

Waterwatch covers the Murrumbidgee catchment upstream of Burrinjuck Dam near Yass, with the exception of the Goodradigbee catchment. The total area monitored by Waterwatch is over 11,400 square kilometres.