By Dan Kirk and Anne Bremer
Creeks are often the defining characteristic in determining what watershed you live in, for example, if you live near Garrity Creek, then you live in the Garrity Creek Watershed, or if you live near Sausal Creek, then you live in the Sausal Creek Watershed. This is not always the case, but often it is. On paper, communities are commonly distinguished by governance (a city limit, a district region), but isn’t it refreshing to imagine communities and neighborhoods connected by the water that flows nearby, above and below them? This is one reason why we care about creeks and creek health.
In August 2017, with generous funding from the Contra Costa County Fish and Wildlife Committee, The Watershed Project began a county-wide creek monitoring program in partnership with 5 local watershed groups. By using protocols and quality assurance measures from the California Waterboards’ Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program, we make sure our data will be useful to multiple agencies as well as the volunteer groups involved. Today, we work with our partners to actively monitor 36 sites in Contra Costa County for 4-6 parameters (depending on the available equipment), including water temperature, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and turbidity. These sites are in the San Pablo, Wildcat, Rheem, Grayson, Walnut, Alhambra, San Ramon, Pinole and Marsh Creek Watersheds. We also conduct spring surveys for benthic macroinvertebrates, aquatic larvae and nymphs of insects and other invertebrates living in the creek that give a longer perspective on water quality. For example, finding a significant number of stonefly nymphs at a site indicates that water quality must have been good for a prolonged period of time, as stoneflies have a very low tolerance to pollution.
Our excellent quality control measures allow us to publish our data through the California Environmental Data Exchange Network (CEDEN) to be used by regulators and professionals. Additionally, we maintain an educational and interactive database to share our results with the public, found at https://app.thewatershedproject.org, and showcase the results through our partner groups’ websites, newsletters, and outreach events, with the goal of educating the community about water quality issues and how we can work together to reduce them. By using standardized methods, we can compare data across watersheds and learn important information about regional and local trends, with the goal of improving creek and watershed health. We’re hopeful that this unique community science program in Contra Costa County can serve as a model in other areas; we’re actively seeking opportunities to present it to state or national audiences.
Going forward, we plan to continue all aspects of the monitoring program while providing our partner groups with increased capacity to take on more local leadership of the program. Water quality meters are expensive, and currently, groups and sites across the county must share a limited number of them. We are actively fundraising for additional monitoring equipment, which will allow local groups to calibrate and use the equipment on their own schedule, with training and support from our staff.
Any interested community members are invited to join us for monitoring and learn about water quality in our watersheds! To get involved, contact Environmental Monitoring and Restoration Coordinator Satoko Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to make a donation to support our purchase of new monitoring equipment, you may donate online at https://thewatershedproject.org/donate/.