Citizen Science Monitoring with SC Adopt-a-Stream

Introduction to Citizen Science

Purpose: No matter where you live in South Carolina and no matter your occupation, your quality of life is affected by water quality. From the water we drink to the waters used for irrigation, polluted water can affect our health, recreation abilities, economic prosperity, and more. Understanding how water quality is determined, how rivers compare to each other, and what land management decisions affect water quality increases stakeholder awareness and involvement in our conversations about water resource management in the state. Citizen science is a direct way that you can be involved in aiding management of our shared waters in South Carolina, working together towards healthy watersheds.

Citizen science is, by definition, the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists. In the case of South Carolina Adopt-a-Stream (SC AAS), citizens can become a part of an active network of watershed stewardship, engagement, and education through hands-on involvement and a certified training process. Through their data collection, SC AAS volunteers play a needed role in monitoring and tracking water quality in areas not frequently monitored. As volunteers provide more baseline information about stream conditions, natural resource managers can make more informed decisions and use resources more wisely to solve water pollution and ecological stress in their communities.

Adopt a Stream Logo

There are no special job requirements needed in order to become a SC AAS volunteer. All are welcome to find more information, become certified, and add to the knowledge base of waterway health in South Carolina!

Moving Toward a Brighter Future: In the world today, more people have access to information than ever before in history. Collectively, we are moving towards a peer-to-peer society where small groups of individuals will affect large decisions. Citizen science is one method to educate stakeholders and have them “lean in” on what activities impact a river’s ecological health, resulting in great involvement in local decision-making with more informed decision-makers. As stakeholders in the use of South Carolina watersheds, we citizens each have personal responsibilities to care for and protect the water that provides for our livelihoods. The data that volunteers are collecting at the local level is being analyzed for the purposes of creating a more informed and thus, sustainable, future for South Carolina watersheds and the next generation’s access to clean and ample water supply.

The SC Adopt-a-Stream Program

Importance of the Program: The two main goals of the SC AAS program are to coordinate a citizen science data collection effort for consistent surface water and ecological parameters and to engage interested public in watershed management science and water resources stewardship.

SC AAS achieves its first goal by encouraging volunteers to participate in training programs to become certified to collect data for various water quality parameters. Safety comes first in this program, so these volunteers form groups, selecting safe locations to conduct their water quality and ecological monitoring. The groups and their data collection on a regular basis all support a database that serves to analyze the results and keep local and state officials informed about observations made in the field.

Hands-on and streamside learning is offered at SC AAS Certification Workshops.

Hands-on and streamside learning is offered at SC AAS Certification Workshops.
Katie Callahan, ©2019, Clemson University

SC AAS achieves its second goal through various outreach programs and community events. SC AAS also maintains a social media presence with a platform based on water management science education and best practices for caring for SC watersheds.

Measuring Water Quality: The SC Adopt-a-Stream Program offers trainings and monitoring resources under four assessments and protocols: Stream Habitat Assessment, Physical/Chemical Monitoring, Bacteria Monitoring, and Macroinvertebrate Monitoring. The parameters and frequency of data collection is unique to each protocol. All four of these protocols can be found in the SC AAS Volunteer Monitoring Handbook.

  • Stream Habitat Assessments need to be conducted at least once per year, assigning values to parameters such as bank stability, stream sinuosity, access to floodplain, and habitat quality.
  • Physical/Chemical Monitoring should be conducted on a monthly basis and includes the recording of dissolved oxygen (DO), air and water temperature, pH, and conductivity.
  • Bacteria Monitoring includes techniques for measuring E. coli on a monthly basis, which is an indicator organism of fecal contamination in freshwater. By measuring the presence of these bacteria on a monthly basis, volunteers can help local officials understand the potential human health risks in a stream and whether bacteria issues in the stream are frequent or storm-driven.
  • Macroinvertebrate Monitoring is conducted on a quarterly basis and involves observations such as organism diversity, organism quantity, and habitat conditions. Macroinvertebrates can be pollution-sensitive or pollution-tolerant. The presence and distribution of these animals in the stream are indicators of a healthy stream versus one that is impacted in quality and/or habitat.
SC AAS Certified Volunteers collect water quality and macroinvertebrate community data typically in headwater streams, which are less frequently monitored by state and federal agencies.

SC AAS Certified Volunteers collect water quality and macroinvertebrate community data typically in headwater streams, which are less frequently monitored by state and federal agencies.
Kaleigh Sims, Anderson Regional Joint Water System

Built on Partnerships: SC AAS operates through a series of partnerships. There are volunteers, trainers, and state staff. The various levels of involvement exist to:

  • train stewards that are certified to collect data;
  • create a network of mentoring and peer training;
  • increase partnerships with agencies, conservation organizations, and communities across the state;
  • expand knowledge and involvement in watershed management.

SC AAS has a Certification and Recertification Process for both volunteers and trainers. Each must be annually recertified to continue monitoring with the program and entering data into the SC AAS Database. Each of the distinctions differ in their roles in SC AAS operations, but all are integral to a successful monitoring network.

The program is co-lead by SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) and Clemson University’s Center for Watershed Excellence. Training partners include county staff, university faculty, Clemson Extension agents, SC DHEC scientists, parks personnel, and conservation groups.

Effective Use of Data: Data collected by SC AAS Volunteer Monitors is used to establish baseline conditions for determining stream health based on chemical, physical, biological, and habitat parameters. Volunteer’s data is particularly useful in the following areas:

  • screening waterbodies for water quality concerns
  • assessing overall health of a watershed
  • identifying waterbodies in need of more detailed monitoring
  • prioritizing areas for Best Management Practices (BMP), such as stream restoration
  • identifying potential pollution sources such as illegal discharges and illicit connections

Volunteer data is also useful in educating stakeholders about how watersheds are managed. The data that volunteers generate through the program’s methods and protocols is not as extensive as what is used by SC DHEC officials, but it does capture information in areas less frequently monitoring that may lead to more informed planning by the local authority. The data is non-regulatory, and not analyzed by a certified laboratory, which means that it cannot be used for any legal purposes and is not appropriate for use in policies stemming from the Clean Water Act.

Data is stored in a secure and mobile-friendly database completely dedicated to the SC AAS program. Water quality and ecosystem health data can be viewed by anyone, worldwide. Only certified volunteers can create stations, enter monitoring results, and upload photos of monitoring sites.

The SC AAS Database is an interactive site, where users can view monitoring sites and tabulated and graphed results. The database is updated on average three times per week with new entries.

The SC AAS Database is an interactive site, where users can view monitoring sites and tabulated and graphed results. The database is updated on average three times per week with new entries.
Katie Callahan, ©2019, Clemson University

Quality Assurance Project Plans ensure the integrity of our training procedures towards the collection of consistent data. By following a specific plan for developing data collection procedures, SC AAS can minimize data collection errors and provide a support structure to help volunteers be successful in their efforts. SC AAS operates under an approved QAPP that includes instructions for training requirements, proper data collection, recordkeeping, instrument calibration and testing, data management, and more. The Quality Assurance Project Plan, or QAPP, can be found on the SC AAS website.

How to Get Involved

Introduction to Resources: SC Adopt-a-Stream resources are extensive, including monitoring kits, handbooks, e-news, and more. On the SC AAS website, users can find out when and where training events are. For certified volunteers and trainers, there is an interactive database to log water quality data from sampling events. Each certified volunteer and trainer will get a handbook that includes the protocols for each of the types of sampling they may conduct at their site. SC AAS has an e-news letter that goes out to subscribed volunteers, informing them of program updates and providing tips and best practices for conducting monitoring! Depending on the type of monitoring that a volunteer group is doing, SC AAS has kits that include the necessary materials to conduct testing and proper data collection.

These listed materials and more can be found at Sign up for the E-news to stay informed!

Originally published 05/19

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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