Citizen Scientists Monitor Nutrient Concentrations in the Yahara River Watershed

Yahara WINS Is Being Used As a National Model for Water Quality Improvement

The EPA has recently updated their website to include a nutrient management case study around Yahara WINS. You can find the study here.

Phosphorus and Sediment In Streams-Not a Good Thing

High levels of phosphorus and sediment coupled with low dissolved oxygen levels threaten the health of streams and lakes throughout the Yahara River watershed (YRW). Of the approximately 580 stream miles within the Yahara River watershed, over 39% are currently listed as “impaired” by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). These streams do not meet water quality standards established by the Clean Water Act Section 303 (d). One of the main contributors of pollution is phosphorus.

Reducing Phosphorus Through Adaptive Management

Watershed adaptive management is a new, innovative, and collaborative compliance approach designed to meet regulatory requirements for phosphorus reduction in a cost-effective manner. Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), in partnership with Dane County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and multiple cities, villages, and towns are implementing a watershed adaptive management project to reduce runoff to lakes and streams in the Yahara River Watershed.  This collaborative effort is called Yahara WINs (Watershed Improvement Network).  Phosphorus and sediment reduction efforts will need to include a mix of agricultural and non-agricultural practices. Success of these efforts will need to be shown through modeling and water quality monitoring. Both traditional in-stream water quality monitoring and edge-of field monitoring are integral to this effort

Why Volunteers Are Critical To This Effort

Because many of stream segments within the YRW lacked sufficient in-stream water quality data, the Rock River Coalition (RRC) put forth a proposal to fund an extensive network of citizen stream monitors that could augment existing stream monitoring established by the WDNR, MMSD and USGS. Begun in 2013, this project has two main goals:

  • to determine in-stream water quality conditions (status) for streams previously lacking data; and,
  • to track changes in-stream water quality over time (trends) that may be caused by changing land use and water management practices.

Including volunteer stream monitors in the Adaptive Management Program

  • expands geographical coverage to include more stream stretches than might otherwise be possible with more expensive monitoring methods;
  • increases the frequency of monitoring; and
  • builds greater awareness of the threats to water quality in the Yahara River Watershed.

WP_20140522_004As of September 2017 Volunteers Collected 851 Nutrient Samples

Since 2013, RRC has coordinated a successful volunteer stream monitoring program in the Yahara River Watershed. Volunteer teams conduct baseline water quality monitoring in addition to collecting nutrient samples.

For the 2017 monitoring years:

  • 53stream stations are monitored by RRC volunteers on a monthly bases for dissolved oxygen concentrations, stream temperature, water clarity, and stream flow (when possible). Volunteers also assess stream health by using a biological assessment called, Biotic Index.
  • 27 stream stations were established by volunteers to monitor continuous water temperatures using automated data loggers.
  • 35 stream stations are active nutrient sampling sites. Volunteers collect and deliver these samples to the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Nine Springs Plant to be analyzed for concentrations of total phosphorus, total suspended solids, total kjeldahl nitrogen, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and ortho-phosphorus.
  • From May 2013 to September 2017, RRC volunteer stream monitors have collected 851 water samples which are then analyzed by the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.

2013-2017 Data Sharing Series

Follow this link to your total phosphorus data visualization:

2013-2014 Data Sharing Series

May 2013-June 2016: Monthly Concentrations and Minimum – Maximum Results For Each Stream Station–Please note: These links direct you to a series of excel pivot charts shared via OneDrive.

May 2013-October 2014 Static Reports


Volunteers use monitoring methods established by the state-wide Water Action Volunteers Program (UWEX and WDNR). Follow this link to read more about methods used by volunteers in this project: 2016 Level 2 Stream Monitoring Methods and Nutrient Sampling Procedures_merged

Project Proposals

Summary Reports

2017 TP Sampling Across the Rock River Basin