Organise a community river monitoring programme.


In Australia, there are currently more than 1700 community groups involved in the national Waterwatch programme. In 1995, during Water Week, an estimated 20,000 people participated in taking a snapshot of water quality throughout Australia.

Water quality problems come from upstream and are passed on downstream so they can't be solved without catchment cooperation. On larger river systems, work with monitoring groups from the whole catchment or drainage area of each creek or river.

In Australia, some groups, as in Melbourne, have taken a "top-down" approach, first establishing a catchment coordinating group and then recruiting small groups of volunteers along the valley so that the quality of the river or stream can be compared with land use at its top, middle and lower ends.

Others, such as Streamwatch in New South Wales, started from the "bottom-up"; first establishing strong local monitoring groups on different sections of the waterway and then forming a broader catchment coordinating group to gain an understanding of pollution sources upstream and pollution impacts downstream. In New Zealand, most monitoring groups have started locally.

The local group

Individual monitoring groups are usually made up of members who live close to a particular section of a waterway. Local people know their own area and are best able to identify problems and propose appropriate solutions. Group members who live close to a stream or wetland can observe changes that can occur on a daily basis. They have easier access to remote sites and can sample more frequently than scientists and government agencies. They can also respond to unpredictable events. For example, community monitoring of stormwater runoff in urban and rural areas has enabled groups to quickly identify the sources of pollution problems.

School involvement

More than a thousand schools in Australia participate in Waterwatch monitoring projects. Their involvement has included a nationwide detective game, as well as integrating Waterwatch projects with the curriculum.

The team approach

Through a team approach, community members can benefit from the experience and resources of local councils or agencies concerned with water issues. Local authorities, in turn, can benefit from the monitoring work conducted by school or community members.

In Australia, the water chemistry monitoring equipment is generally sponsored by a participating local council, government agency, business or industry. The water quality information gathered by those same groups is reported back to their local sponsors and water managers. The reports then form the basis for round table discussions on how community groups, councils and agencies can work together to improve things.

Involve a cross-section of your local community right from the start. Identify all the water authorities, local councils, industries, businesses and individuals who are concerned with water quality in your catchment. In particular, encourage primary and secondary school teachers and students within walking distance of the stream to integrate water monitoring into the curriculum across areas of study such as Environment, Science, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Studies, Geography and the Arts. Schools can support community monitoring activities by using their equipment to sterilise equipment, incubate faecal coliform samples, and record and report results on computer.

As well as schools, councils, water authorities and businesses, membership could usefully include people from:

The involvement of a wide variety of people helps establish the credibility of your group and increases its positive influence.

Setting your monitoring goals

Once the group has been formed, give it a name and adopt a logo for identification on printed material.

Form a technical advisory committee made up of representatives of local water managers, members of the scientific community and potential monitors to advise on aims, methods, equipment, site selection, training and data interpretation etc.

Find out:

With this information, the group can then call its first meeting and decide on its primary aims, that is, has the group been formed for the purpose of:

Some groups design their first monitoring efforts around the simple question, "what is this catchment like?". They then set out to answer a second question "Is the water quality of our waterway improving or becoming degraded ?" It is important that everyone in the group agrees on the aim, as this will set the foundation for future activities.

Think about producing an information sheet detailing the group's aim, membership and the area covered. This can be distributed widely to keep the group informed and attract new members and community support.

To clarify your goals, gather representatives of the whole range of catchment interests to work with topographic maps and aerial photos to identify issues. The maps are useful for locating water uses, landuses, and possible pollution sources. The following questions might help:

Activities for a water monitoring group

Your group's activities will depend on its aim and size, and its involvement with the rest of the community. The following activities are currently being undertaken by established water monitoring groups and may be suitable for your group.

Learning about waterway habitat and water quality by:

Promoting community awareness and appreciation of local waterways by:

Monitoring local streams, lakes and wetlands by:

Getting involved in action by:

" Dump no waste, Drains to the River"

The catchment group

A catchment group can achieve more than small monitoring groups or individuals working alone. It can support and encourage, share water quality data and equipment, and take responsibility for planning and managing projects. These tasks can be shared among the group members with individuals or small groups sharing responsibilities for:

When water quality information is being collected by community groups in a coordinated way across a whole catchment, both the regional community and government agencies are more likely to use community data for practical decision making and action. As that happens, recognition and support for community water monitoring groups will increase.

Where to get help

Your Regional or District Council or Water Board is a good starting point. Other organisations which might help the group with information, administrative assistance and advice might include government departments, responsible for sewage disposal and drainage, water supply, water quality and water conservation.


Rivers Wetlands River Surveys

River Detectives Beaches Home