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Overview of monitoring methods

Within water monitoring, there are many options and protocols that have been tested. Depending on your goals, local context, and resources, you may choose a combination of monitoring methods. This is a very brief overview of common tests.

More is not always better! Remember to be strategic about which tests your asking people to test, how often, and how difficult it is to succeed.

Field tests versus lab tests

Depending on the type of answers, your budget, and your local capacity, it’s important to understand the limitations of equipment, especially field equipment.

Field tests give you picture of potential hotspots and trends. Examples of common field tests: temperature, clarity, conductivity, pH, alkalinity, hardness, nitrates, phosphates.

Examples of tests that require a lab: e.Coli, eDNA, trace chemicals (often requires a mass spectrometer).

Pre-existing field testing protocols

Freshwater Watch : You can subscribe to their program, which includes equipment and data collection (on a sliding scale depending on financial capacity). You get in-the-field results for clarity, nitrates and phosphates. Includes a visual assessment and set-up for an ArcGIS data collection.

Water Rangers (UK) : You can purchase testing equipment directly and get help with training with online resources. The kit is well laid out with a field guide, notepad, and sample collection equipment to collect in-the-field results for temperature, conductivity, pH, alkalinity, hardness, nitrates, and phosphates. Includes a visual assessment and a free data platform where you and your volunteers can enter results (customizing the form to add other parameters is also free). You can also embed results for locations on your own website.

Westcountry CSI: You can’t purchase from them, but you can learn about their protocol here, which they have implemented with hundreds of volunteers. They also have some amazing examples of data visualization and report cards using ArcGIS.

Visual assessments

Big Water Watch↗ : First launched for Rivers Week, it’s a one-off visual assessment for people to dip their toes into water testing.

Freshwater Watch↗ / Water Rangers↗: Both include a visual assessment as part of their protocol.

Outflow safari↗: A citizen science method for locating, assessing the impact of, and reporting on these polluting pipes. 

Mud spotter↗: Citizen scientists and professionals to record the sources and pathways of mud being transported into rivers during or shortly after rainfall.

Chemistry tests

Here are the most commonly used test parameters. Click through for a review of the methods used:

  • Conductivity (or total dissolved solids)
  • Nitrates
  • pH
  • Phosphates
  • Temperature
  • Water clarity

Other chemistry tests

  • Alkalinity
  • Ammonia
  • Hardness

Biological tests

New and emerging tests for e.Coli are coming out and will improve over time. For now, it’s recommended to either use a certified lab or to set up a community lab.

  • E. coli tests
  • Other bacterial indicators (for recreational water use)

Other tests used

  • Flow
  • Habitat assessment

Other/lab tests

  • Edna: for biodiversity
  • Microcystins
Updated on May 1, 2024

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