Community-based water monitoring in the United States can be traced as far back as the 1920s, but coordinated efforts addressing water pollution first emerged in the 1960s. In the wake of the environmental movement, numerous water protection groups began forming across the country, with one of the most prominent examples being the Izaak Walton League of America’s Save Our Streams program. With the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, states were mandated to assess the health of their watersheds but lacked the basic infrastructure to comply with federal reporting requirements. As states sought ways to monitor vast regions of unclassified watersheds – particularly those with known impacts from legacy industries, such as coal mining – funding and logistical support for volunteer water monitoring increased substantially throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite these gains, community-based water monitoring programs have historically struggled in retaining long-term resources and in establishing legitimacy amongst professional watershed scientists. A 2004 national study found that, despite enthusiasm for volunteer monitoring, few states actually used volunteer-collected data in their management programs. Furthermore, funding for community-based monitoring has been in steady decline since the 2000s due to shrinking budgets within government agencies. However, recent threats to watershed health from industries such as hydraulic fracturing have rejuvenated the community-based water monitoring movement. Capacity building organizations, non-profit foundations, and local governments are again turning to volunteers to gather data in threatened watersheds. New protocols, technologies, and approaches to data sharing are also emerging.
For more information visit: https://www.fractracker.org/projects/water-monitor/