Environmental Monitoring

Our Civic Science Approach

Civic science – that is, data gathering and data reporting by non-expert residents in our communities – generates usable information for decision making.

Hellgrammite (DobsonFly Larvae – approx 4cm)
photo and video by Katee Meckeler


You Too Can Think Like A Scientist!

“Civic science” (also known as citizen science, crowd science, crowd-sourced science, volunteer monitoring or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. It has been defined as “the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis.” It is primarily through civic science – and the work of “civic scientist” volunteer stream monitors – that we gather data about the health of our streams and of the Raritan River. Our civic science work includes:

Water Quality Monitoring – Visual Habitat Assessments

Water Quality Monitoring – Benthic Macroinvertebrate Assessments

Water Quality Monitoring – Sampling for Pathogens

Soil Moisture Monitoring – Soil sampling to gauge soil moisture content (partnership with NASA)

Visual Habitat Assessment

Individuals and groups “adopt” a stream segment for regular monitoring from June-August every year (one observation per month). The LRWP hosts visual habitat training sessions in May and provides supplies and support to our civic scientist volunteer monitors. Monitors note significant trash or erosion issues, the presence of invasive species, and observe the need for restoration. Volunteers are asked to commit to a full season (May-August). If the group is interested we are happy to help organize stream clean-ups, invasives removal, and to help plan for restoration work.

We are always seeking volunteers!

Visual stream assessments don’t require expensive technical tools, but we have the following available to loan to our volunteers:

-Weighted rubber ducks to help gauge stream velocity (apples or tennis balls should work, too)
– Digital field thermometer for measuring water temperature
– 100ft fiber reel measuring tape for stream width measurement
– Bright orange stake flags for measuring off 10 feet for stream velocity measurement
– Measuring stick for stream depth measurement

Benthic Macroinvertebrates Assessment

Do you like streamwalking? Are you fascinated by the animals that live in our waters? Do you want to learn more about them? Then perhaps benthic macroinvertebrates assessments will be your thing. The LRWP will teach you and certify you in benthic macroinvertebrate assessment (catching, identifying and counting the organisms that live in the water) to help us identify water quality trends. Surveys of aquatic insect communities can be used to identify areas of concern within streams and rivers, as they can reflect the presence of non-optimal conditions that other measurements (such as chemical monitoring) might miss. Individual stream sites can then be ranked from best to worst, in comparison to reference conditions, and priorities can be set for their improvement.

Pathogens Monitoring

Every Thursday during the summer we monitor Raritan River recreation access points to provide information about the safety of recreating in the water in these areas. More info is up on our pathogens monitoring page.

Other Civic Science studies in the Lower Raritan Watershed

NASA’s soil moisture monitoring

The LRWP monitors moisture in several soil sites as part of NASA’s civic “Soil Moisture Active Passive” (SMAP) program. This involves taking monthly soil samples to link on-the-ground observations with those of an orbiting observatory that measures the amount of water in the top 5 cm (2 inches) of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface. The topsoil layer is the one in which the food we eat grows and where other vegetation lives. Moisture in the soil indirectly affects us in a variety of ways. In the course of its observations, SMAP will also determine if the ground is frozen or thawed in colder areas of the world.