Water quality monitoring season may be over, but the work continues

Posted on Jan 6, 2017

Andy Bertocci has been volunteering with Friends of Casco Bay for 25 years!

Volunteers, such as Andy Bertocci, finished their data collection on October 18, marking the end of the 2016 season. But, both for Andy and the organization, this also marks 25 years of data collection by Friends of Casco Bay!

Over 7 months, from April through October, our water quality monitors record their measurements of water temperature, salinity, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and pH (the level of acidity of the water). They also make notes on weather conditions, air temperature, and any unusual or intriguing sightings, such as jumping fish, invasions of jellies, and the occasional oil spill.

Although our Citizens Stewards have turned in their data sheets and put their water quality kits to bed until next spring, the work continues back at the office, where staff members are busy. We are organizing, reviewing, and analyzing the data from 37 volunteer monitoring sites around Casco Bay.

Database Assistant Sara Biron reviews the online data entries and enters additional data from spreadsheets entered by hand. She is the first to make sure the data makes sense; Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland is responsible for checking it twice.

Peter explains the importance of this review, “Our volunteers are trained according to a comprehensive Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) approved by EPA, which makes their data, after quality assurance checks by staff, scientifically defensible.”

Peter then passes the data along to Research Associate Mike Doan. Mike averages the data collected over the past five years for dissolved oxygen, pH, and water clarity (Secchi depth) to update the Casco Bay Health Index, an overview of the health of the waters around Casco Bay. Says Mike, “The Health Index enables us to assess: What is the relative condition of sites across a region? How does the health of regions of the Bay differ from each other? Which sites, based on the selected criteria, require a closer look? Are these conditions improving or degrading over time?

Development and Communications Associate Sarah Lyman then turns Mike’s analysis into an easy-to understand graphic, where each sampling site is assigned a color—red, yellow, or green—onto a map of the Bay. That chart lets everyone see the health of Casco Bay at a glance.

On January 24, Friends of Casco Bay will unveil the updated Casco Bay Health Index and show how different regions of Casco Bay are faring.

Join us on January 24 at our 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Celebration and Annual Meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, Freeport (snow date 1/25).

Come spring, our volunteers will take up their kits once again, come in for their individual Quality Assurance review, and devote ten Saturdays in 2017, to helping us improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

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