What We Monitor

Baseline Monitoring

As a WAV volunteer, you’ll learn how to measure the following six elements of stream health using scientific tools and techniques:

baseline testing dissolved oxygen with reagents in a small testing jar
Dissolved oxygen – aquatic life depends on it
baseline testing the temperature of the water collected in a cup
Water temperature – affects oxygen demand and can threaten creatures’ survival
baseline testing the transparency of the water by looking down a tube filled with stream water
Transparency – takes into account both color and suspended particles in the water
baseline testing streamflow by measuring the depth of the stream
Streamflow – the amount of flowing water in a stream impacts the habitat available for creatures living in and near the stream
baseline habitat riffles boulders
Habitat – considers streambank, bed and riparian characteristics
baseline biotic index test dumping the net contents into a tray
Stream macroinvertebrates – insects, worms, crustaceans, clams and other small, boneless creatures that are visible without the aid of a microscope are used to assess water quality based on their tolerance to conditions

You’ll monitor dissolved oxygen, temperature, transparency and flow once a month from May–October. You’ll also monitor macroinvertebrates each spring and fall and make a habitat assessment each summer.

Nutrient Monitoring

A man testing for Phosphorus in a streamPhosphorus is the most visible, widespread water pollutant in Wisconsin. High levels of phosphorus can trigger excess algae and plant growth in lakes and streams. When these excess plants die and decompose, oxygen levels drop dramatically and can lead to fish kills.

Streams act like conveyor belts, delivering phosphorus directly to lakes. Additionally, phosphorus is associated with excess sediments covering stream bottoms, the most common biological impairment in streams. Phosphorus in streams and lakes originates naturally from rocks, but its major sources today are usually associated with human activities: soil erosion, human and animal wastes, septic systems, detergents and runoff from farmland or lawns.

An analysis of phosphorus often includes both total phosphorus and soluble reactive phosphorus. Volunteers will sample for total phosphorus, which is considered a better indicator of nutrient status because its levels remain more stable than soluble reactive phosphorus. Total phosphorus includes particulate phosphorus—which is attached to bottom sediments and contained in plant and animal fragments suspended in water—and soluble phosphorus. Soluble reactive phosphorus dissolves in water and readily aids plant growth, but its concentration varies widely over short time periods as plants take it up and release it.

At times, monitoring sites will be selected for additional nutrient parameters including total suspended solids and nitrogen.

The goal of this monitoring is to characterize the total phosphorus concentrations most commonly occurring in the streams during the primary algae and aquatic plant “growing season” of May through October.

Lower Fox River Monitoring

In 2012, the EPA approved the Lower Fox River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) project, and stream monitoring was set in place shortly after to track water quality trends of the watershed throughout the implementation process. The Lower Fox River Volunteer Monitoring Program began in 2015 to achieve some of the monitoring goals. Nineteen impaired tributary streams and one non-impaired tributary stream within the Lower Fox River basin are monitored every month, May through October, during the primary algae and macrophyte growing season. Apart from the one non-impaired stream, all monitored streams have issues with excess total phosphorus (TP) and/or total suspended solids. The state standard for total phosphorus is 0.075 mg/L for these tributary streams.

Volunteers collect all surface water samples within the program. They are trained to follow DNR sampling protocols and report to the program coordinator to ensure all samples are done correctly and in the right time frame. Samples are sent to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene for sample analysis, and results are sent to the program coordinator for data analysis. All sampling equipment, shipping materials and training are provided by the DNR.

Program Goals

  1. Collect accurate and reliable data.
  2. Engage the public in volunteer monitoring and bring public awareness to the water quality issues in the area.
  3. Evaluate the long-term effectiveness of Lower Fox River TMDL implementation.
  4. Monitor the health of the watershed over time at a regional scale.
  5. Gain a better understanding of which management practices are most beneficial to water quality.

Contact Information

Chris Kolasinski
Lower Fox River Volunteer Monitoring Program Coordinator

(920) 252-5053

Aquatic Invasive Species Response Monitoring

Invasive species are non-native plants, animals or pathogens that have been transported from their location of origin to an environment in which they are able to spread, unchecked, throughout the ecosystem. Often, the new ecosystem does not support the competitors and predators that maintain the system of checks and balances that prevents the species from reproducing rapidly and taking over a habitat. This rapid expansion can have ecological and economic impacts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has expressed a strong commitment to engaging public and private stakeholders in an effective strategy of prevention, containment and control of these species. This monitoring program is designed to strengthen that commitment through volunteer qualitative monitoring of select species in designated waterbodies.

A volunteer monitoring protocol has been developed to assist statewide AIS response monitoring. This protocol is designed for use with one or multiple specific species. Data from this project will be entered into the statewide Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS) database and reviewed by the appropriate parties.

The goal of this project is to determine the spread of target species to suspected river and stream locations. Monitoring will characterize the nature of the spread as well as the composition of the host habitat.

This method is still in the pilot phase. If your monitoring group is interested in testing out this project, please contact Ilana Haimes.

Status and Trends Monitoring

A woman using a DO meter in a streamInitially piloted in 2006, these methods allow citizens to use WDNR methods for monitoring streams. Regardless of the method used, dissolved oxygen and transparency, and sometimes pH, are monitored monthly between May and October in conjunction with Baseline Monitoring efforts. Continuous temperature monitoring devices, called thermistors (e.g., HOBOs or TidBits) are placed in the stream and record temperature every hour until they are removed, and data are downloaded to a computer. When volunteers use meters to monitor pH and dissolved oxygen, the meters must be calibrated by the volunteer monitors on each sampling day. Volunteers who participate in Status and Trends Monitoring are asked to make a 2–5 year commitment to a monitoring site.


Past Projects

WAV has a rich history of volunteer monitoring dating back to 1996. Over the years, projects have been undertaken to answer research questions and gather data on specific topics of interest.

Crayfish of Wisconsin ProjectE. coli Bacteria MonitoringWisconsin Ephemeral Ponds ProjectLong-term SitesRoad SaltWastewater Treatment Plant Outfall Temperature Monitoring