Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program


Watr Quality Monitoring at Mallows Bay

Water Testing at Mallows Bay

We are really proud to include the National Marine Sanctuary at Mallows Bay as one of our new water testing sites this year. Mallows Bay, the nation’s newest marine sanctuary, is home to the famous Ghost Fleet, the sunken ships from WWI; a favorite spot for kayakers and canoers, it features a unique opportunity to […]

Press Release

1st Annual Swimmable Potomac Report Issued by PRKN

POTOMAC RIVERKEEPER NETWORK ISSUES SWIMMABLE POTOMAC REPORT Identifies Where and When The Potomac is Safe For Human Contact Washington, D.C. – July 23 – Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) today released its first annual Water Quality Monitoring Report for the Potomac River, which analyzes the data and results of water sampling at 10 sites along the Potomac […]



Participate in our Citizen Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program to Make the Potomac Swimmable Again!

Part of Potomac Riverkeeper Network’s mission is to improve recreation access. For years it has been illegal to swim in the Potomac River in Washington, DC because high levels of bacteria sometimes make it unsafe. When it rains, household sewage from Washington DC and Alexandria combines with polluted stormwater, discharging raw sewage, pet waste, road runoff, and other contaminants that foul the Potomac River.

We want to change that, with help from folks like you!

To achieve our goal of a swimmable Potomac, in 2019 we began our Water Quality Monitoring Program. We started by organizing a dedicated team of volunteer citizen scientists who received rigorous training from Potomac Riverkeeper and other skilled and knowledgeable professionals from our watershed. From May through September, our volunteers collected water samples weekly from ten sites along the river, analyzed them, and reported the results to the public.

We often ask people like you that support our goals for a fishable, swimmable, drinkable Potomac River to sign petitions and write to legislators asking them to support the public’s right to safe, clean water. Sometimes we also need you to roll up your sleeves, get your feet wet and your hands dirty. This is your opportunity to participate directly in gathering the water quality data that we need to show that the public is at risk of getting gastroenteritis when recreating in the Potomac River and that we need to continue to drive investment to stop sewage dumping and stormwater pollution.

Please join us for training and learn how you can help to make the Potomac Swimmable again!

  • We have had to make adjustments because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but only so that the important work we do can still get done. We had to cancel the in-person Water Quality Monitoring Training sessions, but we’ve got a solution in online training.
  • We have developed three volunteer training modules. It’s important to do these in order:
    1. Module one
    2. Module two
    3. Module three
  • Once you have successfully completed all three modules, contact us and we’ll send you the online test that you must pass to be certified.
  • Please fill out and sign our waiver, too.
  • Once you get word that you’ve passed the test, we will certify you as a trained citizen scientist and we welcome you to our dedicated and knowledgeable group of citizen scientists!
  • We also have an additional citizen science water quality monitoring in those portions of the Potomac located in Washington, DC, which are in partnership with the Anacostia Riverkeeper and several other local nongovernmental organizations and made possible through a grant from DC’s Department of Energy and Environment. We’ll have information on training sessions for that program soon.
  • In addition to water testing along the shores of Washington, DC, we also sample and test in Maryland and Virginia. We are very excited to expand this program for 2020 to Mallows Bay through the generous support of the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation and to other new sites along the river.

water quality monitor program volunteerJust as we did last year, this spring and summer, our volunteer citizen scientists’ monitoring results will provide up-to-date weekly water quality information 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 pollution that may directly affect their health. The results of our data collection and analysis 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!

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! The E. coli bacteria for which we sample serves as a water quality parameter for human health in recreational waters. This monitoring initiative is one step towards our ultimate goal of making the river swimmable for all to use and enjoy!

Sample analysis for MD and VA waters will take place on our new research vessel, the Sea Dog – a 42-foot Chesapeake Deadrise moored at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Our vessel is outfitted with an onboard laboratory to measure E. coli so we can analyze the samples directly on the boat. The water quality monitoring data will also be shared with other groups working to protect the Chesapeake through the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative and the Chesapeake Data Explorer. Data will be compared with the Virginia health and safety standards to determine whether 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 in May and continue weekly through September.