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Water: Monitoring & Assessment

Chapter 3 Watershed Survey Methods

3.1 - How to Conduct a Watershed Survey
3.2 - The Visual Assessment

One of the most rewarding and least costly stream monitoring activities a volunteer program can conduct is the watershed survey. Some programs call it a windshield survey, a visual survey, or a watershed inventory. It is, in essence, a comprehensive survey of the geography, land and water uses, potential and actual pollution sources, and history of the stream and its watershed.

The watershed survey may be divided into two distinct parts:

  • A onetime background investigation of the stream and its watershed. (To do this, volunteers research town and county records, maps, photos, news stories, industrial discharge records, and oral histories.)
  • A periodic visual assessment of the stream and its watershed. (To do this, volunteers walk along the stream and drive through the watershed, noting key features.)
The watershed survey requires little in the way of training or equipment. Its chief uses include:
  • Screening for pollution problems
  • Identifying potential sources of pollution
  • Identifying sites for monitoring
  • Helping interpret biological and chemical information
  • Giving volunteers and local residents a sense of the value of the stream or watershed
  • Educating volunteers and the local community about potential pollution sources and the stressors affecting the stream and its watershed
  • Providing a blueprint for possible community restoration efforts such as cleanups and tree plantings
To actually determine whether those stressors are, in fact, affecting the stream requires additional monitoring of chemical, physical, or biological conditions.

The watershed survey described in this chapter was developed from survey approaches used by programs such as Rhode Island Watershed Watch, Maryland Save Our Streams, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and Washington's AdoptA Stream Foundation. References are provided at the end of this chapter for further information on watershed surveys.

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