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River Watch

Blake W. Beyea, EscaPhotography

For twenty-plus years, the River Watch program (also known as Rivers of Colorado Water Watch Network) has provided resources and training for schools and local watershed groups to monitor the quality of waters in their local watersheds. The objectives of the program are to provide useful water quality data for entities involved in implementing aspects of the Clean Water Act and others interested in water quality monitoring, and to provide an educational opportunity for students and citizens. The River Watch program is sponsored by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in partnership with the Colorado Watershed Assembly, a non-profit organization. Annually, approximately 140 schools and others participate. These groups regularly sample a total of about 350 separate locations throughout the state for water quality indicators such as pH, dissolved oxygen, metals and nutrients as well as conduct macroinvertebrate and physical habitat assessments, resulting in over 70,000 individual data points generated annually. Data exists for over 800 stations produced over the years by over 70,000 volunteers. For more information, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the Colorado Watershed Assembly, www.coloradowater.org.

A reclaimed tailings pile sits just next to the San Miguel River above Telluride.

Federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, conduct monitoring as part of national research projects such as the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program. This program monitors long-term changes in water quality in more than 50 major river basins and aquifers nationwide. Many other groups and organizations also conduct monitoring. These include universities, watershed groups, municipalities and private industry. Coordination of these multiple efforts is an ongoing challenge that led to the creation of the Colorado Water Quality Monitoring Council (see NonGovernmental Organizations, p. 15). Any monitoring data provided to the Division and Commission that is adequately documented and judged to be reliable can be used to help determine appropriate water quality classifications and standards and to identify impaired waters (see Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters, p. 22). If monitoring shows that a lake, reservoir or stream segment is not meeting water quality standards, the Water Quality Control Division targets that water body for review and action. Although the state monitors only a portion of Colorado’s surface waters each year, streams with suspected water quality concerns receive a higher priority.

River Watch (3)

Other Monitoring

River Watch engages volunteers of all ages. Hamilton Middle School students collect and examine macroinvertebrates (above) during a River Watch summer training. Volunteers participate in an electroshocking workshop to survey fish during the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference.

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Citizen's Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection  

Curious as to how the state decides what rivers are healthy for fish, or what lakes are safe for swimming? This desk reference tackles the c...