With limited resources on hand, the Utah Division of Water Quality often has difficulty monitoring the roughly 2,000 lakes and hundreds of miles of streams in Utah. That's where programs like the Utah Water Watch step in, employing volunteers to examine waterways throughout the state.
Brian Greene, program coordinator for Utah Water Watch, said the program is the perfect activity for those who want to be in the outdoors and have an interest in science. Managed by the Utah State University Water Quality Extension in partnership with the DWQ, the program provides free training and equipment to volunteers who make a commitment to monitor a certain waterway once a month for seven months out of the year.
"We teach [volunteers] about watersheds, water quality and, more importantly, how to use the equipment," Greene said. "They can do these monitoring events on their own schedule and report back to us online."
Citizen scientists with Utah Water Watch analyze various parameters of waterways, such as pH, dissolved oxygen, E. coli, turbidity and temperature, as well as observations like water flow, clarity, color and algae cover.
Skip Boissonnault is a volunteer who monitors the Jordanelle Reservoir. He said citizen scientists are a crucial adjunct to the state DWQ, which often cannot spot harmful E. coli or algae blooms in a timely manner, due to its resources being spread thin.
"We're kind of like watchdogs," Boissonnault said. "It's fun, it's interesting. I'm just curious about what goes on in our environment."
Monitoring work takes about 15 minutes, Greene said, and data collected are publicly available for viewing on Utah Water Watch's website. There is a broad spectrum of volunteers that get involved with the program, he said.
"We have over 100 volunteers across the state and they come from all walks of life and all ages. Some families [participate] with their eight- or nine-year-olds and there are some people in their 80s," Greene said. "They all have one thing in common -- they like to be outdoors and they want to do some real science and give back to their community."
Volunteers can choose from a pre-approved list of monitoring sites, but a site must be approved before monitoring can begin.
Boissonnault has been involved with Utah Water Watch for nearly three years and said he enjoys doing environmental service. He said those interested in volunteering need only meet certain minimum requirements.
"You want to be environmentally conscious and care about your surroundings," Boissonnault said.
Utah Water Watch will hold an upcoming training session at the Swaner EcoCenter on May 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. where any residents interested in monitoring waterways for the program can obtain more information.