The Challenge

Photo Credit Clare Becker

The Rock River Basin faces many challenges to maintaining water quality and quantity including extreme weather patterns and climate change, mounting pressure from urbanization, pollution from point and nonpoint sources, and threats posed by invasive species. Equally challenging have been efforts to involve the public in watershed management planning and project implementation. The Rock River Coalition believes that we all share responsibility and all have a role to play in meeting these challenges to clean water. Only by working collaboratively can we balance increasing societal demands on water with those of the environment.

Our Vision

The Rock River Coalition works to facilitate public engagement in watershed management through its volunteer stream monitoring program. Citizen participation is the cornerstone of the Rock River Coalition stream monitoring program.

Established in 2002, the RRC has trained over 200 volunteers to “test the waters” using easy-to-learn methods developed by the state-wide Water Action Volunteers Program (WAV), a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the University of Wisconsin-Cooperative Extension (UWEX). Currently, the Rock River Coalition has over 80 volunteer stream monitors collecting water quality data throughout the Rock River Basin.

  • For our streams, the Rock River Coalition envisions a future in which every stream in the Basin has water quality data available for enhanced, science-based, decision-making.
  • For our volunteers, the Rock River Coalition is committed to the idea that volunteer stream monitors can play a critical role in the protection of clean water. Our vision is to create a network of stream stewards ensuring not only the collection of needed water quality data but also enabling volunteers to become advocates for sustainable watershed management.

Program Features

Kara Henderlight

There are five central features to our stream monitoring program.

  • Basin-Wide Perspective: What we do upstream impacts water quality downstream. The Rock River Coalition stream monitoring program is committed to building awareness and understanding of water quality issues using a basin-wide perspective.
  • Collaboration: The Rock River Coalition works collaboratively with state and county governmental entities, academic institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and individuals to provide this critical opportunity for greater public participation in water quality management.
  • Quality Assurance: The Rock River Coalition is committed to creating accurate water quality data and promoting the use of stream water quality data among all entities involved in the management of our streams and rivers in the Rock River Basin. The Rock River Coalition works closely with our volunteers to provide training and ongoing support. In addition, the Rock River Coalition volunteer stream monitoring coordinator also conducts side-by-side field quality assurance checks to maintain accuracy in data collection procedures.
  • Public Access to Water Quality Data: Promoting clean water is a community endeavor. Therefore, our stream monitoring program is based on the philosophy that volunteer-collected data should be accessible to all citizens in the Rock River Basin and, indeed, across the state to enhance watershed management decision-making. All stream monitoring data is uploaded onto a state-wide database that can be accessed and analyzed by all Wisconsin citizens. The database is maintained by the WDNR and is called Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System.
  • Our streams: Most streams monitored in our program are wadeable streams. Working with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff and county land and water specialists, the Rock River Coalition has developed a list of streams waiting to be adopted by volunteers. In addition, the Rock River Coalition will work with volunteers who have additional stream sites which may not be on this list but are important to those individual volunteers. Our volunteer stream monitoring coordinator will help assess the suitability of all potential stream monitoring sites.

Our Three Types of Stream Monitoring Programs

Many streams within the Rock River Basin lack sufficient water quality data to assist with decision-making and resource assessment. Volunteers participating in our baseline monitoring program help to expand our understanding of stream health for streams previously not included in any state or county agency water quality assessments. These volunteers learn how to use simple techniques to measure dissolve oxygen levels, water temperature, water clarity, and water velocity. Volunteers also learn how to collect and identify macro-invertebrates – or aquatic insects that are visible without the use of magnification. Volunteers are visit their stream site once month from April to October. Volunteers enter their own data into the user friendly database hosted by the WDNR called the Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System. The Rock River Coalition volunteer stream monitoring coordinator provides assistance with data entry if needed.

Everything that happens on the land within a watershed impacts stream water quality. Analyzing data from a single water monitoring event is insufficient if we want to understand and characterize the health of our streams over time. Therefore, the Rock River Coalition works with partners and volunteers to establish long term stream monitoring sites throughout the Rock River Basin in order to better understand how our actions on the land impact stream health.  Volunteers involved in this program are trained to use equipment typically used by stream biologists. Volunteers measure dissolved oxygen levels with electronic probes. Volunteers help to collect continuous stream water temperature using monitoring devices called thermistors. Volunteers also measure water clarity with transparency tubes. Volunteers are requested to enter their own data into the user friendly database hosted by the WDNR called Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System. The Rock River Coalition stream monitoring coordinator will assist you with data entry as well as review volunteer data before it becomes publicly available.

Over the years, the Rock River Coalition has collaborated with partners to conduct special water quality research projects. Previous projects have included crayfish monitoring, mussel monitoring, E. coli bacteria monitoring, and road salt monitoring. These special projects are depended on funding and particularly requests. Currently, the Rock River Coalition has received funding from the Yahara River Watershed Improvement Networks (Yahara WINs) to create a robust citizen stream monitoring program in support of the Watershed Adaptive Management effort underway in the Yahara River watershed. Volunteers are collecting nutrient samples as well as baseline and trends water quality information.


Are you interested in becoming a volunteer stream monitor? Check out this page of frequency asked questions to get started: Become a Volunteer Stream Monitor