How does River Watch Work?

River Watch is primarily funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) through a mix of federal funds and Colorado Lottery funds. CPW contracts every five years with a partner to help provide professional staff to support volunteers, diversity funding, size and program areas.

River Watch has an annual cycle that works around the school and state fiscal calendar. All volunteers are required to attend one of our four-day training events, offered in late summer or mid fall, switching east and west slope central locations each year. To learn about our River Watch training events, click here.

As a baseline engagement, all groups sample and analyze all stations monthly for temperature, dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, and hardness. Total and dissolved metals are collected monthly and analyzed at CPW laboratories for 13 metals (Al, Ar, Ca, Cd, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, Pb, Se, Zn). High and low flow nutrient samples (total nitrogen, ammonia, nitrate/nitrite, total phosphorus, chloride, sulfate and total suspended solids) are collected and analyzed at CPW laboratories. Fall macroninvertebrate samples are collected with a physical habitat assessment. Bugs are sent to a certified taxonomist to identify to species and genus. Before September 2016 a 300 count laboratory method was used, a 500 count thereafter.

All methods follow Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Water Quality Control Division methods. A standard operating procedure manual is available. Quality assurance and control is a large part of the program, which conducts a 20% QAQC sample frequency compared to the industry 10% standard. River Watch is transparent about our methods and train volunteers on their role in providing quality data. Safety is the number one consideration in determining a site, year round public access, available flow data, existing data and other considerations enter into site selection. River Watch gathers data, but it does not interpret that data or use it outside of CPW’s mission. All River Watch data is public information and is available on our site, Colorado Data Sharing Network, National Water Quality Portal and is delivered to the WQCD for their annual hearing data calls.

Citizen Science and volunteer monitoring is not free but extremely cost effective. The cost for River Watch data is time, and our sample turnaround time is longer than a private laboratory. Read more about River Watch’s impact.