Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program

Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring to Make the Potomac Swimmable Again!

Part of Potomac Riverkeeper Network’s mission is to improve recreation access throughout the entire river basin. For years it has been illegal to swim in the Potomac River in Washington, DC because of high levels of bacteria making it unsafe at times for swimmers and those coming in direct contact with the river.  Every time it rains, household sewage from Washington DC and Alexandria combines with polluted stormwater, discharging raw sewage into the Potomac River. Storm drains from Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery County flush pet waste, fertilizers and trash into the Potomac River, posing a serious risk to public health and negatively impacting recreational opportunities.

We often ask people like you that support our goals for a fishable, swimmable Potomac River to sign petitions and write to legislators asking them to support the public’s right to safe, clean water. Sometimes we just need you to roll up your sleeves, get your feet wet and your hands dirty. We want a trash-free Potomac River and we want to make the Potomac River swimmable again. Join Us!


water quality monitor program training

POTOMAC RIVER Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring (Maryland and Virginia Waters)

Through the generous support of the Virginia Environmental Endowment, Peterson Companies, National Harbor Marina, SP Marine Management, and Hunting Creek Garden Club, Potomac Riverkeeper Network is initiating a citizen science monitoring program in Virginia and Maryland to gather data on the status of the Potomac River. The program is modeled on a 2018 Anacostia Riverkeeper citizen science program in collaboration with local nongovernmental organizations and DC’s Department of Energy and Environment. This volunteer monitoring program will provide up-to-date weekly water quality data to residents and visitors alike. With thousands of people interacting with and recreating on Maryland and Virginia waters each year, it’s essential for the public to have current information about the water’s quality that may directly affect their well-being and health.

Volunteers will collect water samples where people frequently recreate that will be analyzed to provide up-to-date information on the water quality near you! Part of the fun will be sample analysis that will take place on our new floating laboratory, the Sea Dog – a 42-foot Chesapeake Deadrise housed at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Our vessel is outfitted with an onboard laboratory, the IDEXX Colilert System, to measure E. coli so we can analyze the samples directly on the boat. Our volunteer data will also be made public every Friday via SwimGuide and Chesapeake Alliance website. Our long-term goal is to use our floating laboratory to help expand our volunteer water quality program to communities further down river.

Analysis Results will be uploaded and reported within 24 hours onto the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative and the Chesapeake Data Explorer. Data will be compared with the Virginia health and safety standards to determine whether or not each site currently meets the health standards for E. Coli. Once a determination is made, the site status will be publicized through the SwimGuide smartphone app and website. Sampling will begin on May 23 and continue weekly through September.


water quality monitor program volunteer

WASHINGTON D.C. Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring

With funding from the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), we are partnering with Anacostia Riverkeeper, Audubon Naturalist Society, Rock Creek Conservancy, and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to routinely test multiple sites for E. coli levels. This type of bacteria serves as a water quality parameter for human health in recreational waters. Weekly bacterial data collected by our volunteers will be made available to the public every Friday through the free website and smartphone app, SwimGuide so river users know when the river is safe for primary human contact and when it is not! This monitoring initiative is one step towards our ultimate goal of making the river swimmable for all to use and enjoy!

Our volunteer monitoring program runs from the first week of May 2019 to mid-September 2019. Testing takes place between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Samples are analyzed and the data is uploaded to SwimGuide on Friday, just in time for weekend recreation.


Water Quality Monitoring Updates

Is it Safe to Swim?

I’ve been working to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters for more than 30 years now, and the question that people most often ask about those waters is whether it is safe to swim.  That’s because people love to go in the water and always have since the beginning of time.  Some people think it […]

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