Improving Our Community Waterways Together

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How Is Water Quality Measured? Monitoring!

By: Montaze Trumbo

In 1988, MSD and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) began monitoring water quality and stream flow throughout the Jefferson County area.  The Long Term Monitoring Network has changed over the years and currently includes twenty-seven (27) monitoring sites. The monitoring sites were selected to represent streams in each of eleven watersheds.  

Types of Stream Monitoring

Fish:  Fish have been used for many years to indicate whether waters are clean or polluted, doing better or getting worse.  Knowing whether fish live in the water is not enough – we need to know what kinds of fish are there, how many and their health.  

Aquatic insects: Insects that live on the bottoms of streams are called aquatic insects or benthic macroinvertebrates.  Aquatic insects also have been used for many years to evaluate stream health.  Similar to fish communities, we need to know what kinds of aquatic insects there are and how many of each type are present.  

Stream Habitat: Stream habitat is the underwater environment that is used as a living space by fish, aquatic insects, other plants and animals.  Streams that have a variety of habitats and places with gravel and shade are characteristics of good habitats.  Streams with eroding banks, large amounts of silt and sediment, and straightened stream channels are characteristics of poor habitats.  

Algae: MSD monitors the amount and types of algae present in streams.  Algae range from very small plants that can only be seen with a microscope to large green growths seen in some streams.  Stream flow, shade and the amount of fertilizers in the water influence the amount and types of algae that are present.  

Stream Flow:  MSD and the US Geological Survey work together to monitor stream flow and water quality using permanent gages and water quality meters.  Measurements of stream flow and water quality are collected every 15 minutes.

Water Quality:  MSD monitors a water quality four times per year at the 27 Long Term Monitoring Network sites.  Samples are analyzed for a variety of parameters including levels of fertilizers, sediment and metals.

Recreational Monitoring: Between May 1 and October 31 every year, MSD collects five bacteria samples per month at each Long Term Monitoring Network site.  

Wet Weather Monitoring:  MSD performs water quality monitoring during storm events at least three times at each Long Term Monitoring Network Site every five years.