Alabama Water Watch

Alabama Water Watch (AWW) is a water-quality monitoring program, based at Auburn University, that began in 1992 as a coalition of groups working to protect and restore lakes and streams throughout the state. The mission of AWW is to improve both water quality and policy by recruiting and training citizen volunteers to monitor water quality and using the water data to educate the public and advocate change.

The AWW program at Auburn University began with funding from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce polluted runoff from both urban and rural sources. This type of pollution is difficult to regulate and is best controlled by educating citizens about changing their attitudes and actions. Shortly after AWW was established, the nonprofit organization Alabama Water Watch Association was formed to keep the organization’s efforts community-based and to continue AWW operations running after the grant period ended. Other financial support for AWW comes from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station at Auburn University, and a variety of grants from both nongovernmental and governmental organizations.

The AWW program is coordinated by the Auburn University Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures. The program has a paid director, data-quality coordinator, volunteer monitor coordinator, office manager, and other staff that provide technical and other support for the monitoring groups. The AWW program is affiliated with the USDA-funded National Facilitation Project in Volunteer Water Monitoring, and also partners with the Alabama Rivers Alliance and other environmental groups. The AWW Association has a volunteer board of directors primarily composed of about 15 representatives of local monitoring groups from major river basins statewide, and a part-time paid executive director. The association serves in an advocacy role and helps monitoring groups to access, understand and use information about their water resources to achieve their goals.

Prospective volunteers attend one or more free AWW workshops that are conducted throughout the year statewide. Workshops are coordinated from the AWW program office so that certifications may be tracked and new monitors may be assisted in water testing and data submission. In the workshops, participants learn how to test water for various chemical, physical, and biological characteristics, such as dissolved oxygen, turbidity, pH, and bacteria (e.g., E. coli) concentrations. Monitoring techniques follow EPA-approved quality-assurance plans.

AWW aims to have a monitor assigned to every stream, river, lake, and bay in Alabama, which has more than 75,000 miles of streams and rivers and 490,000 acres of lakes. Thus far, more than 260 citizen groups representing homeowner/boat-owner organizations, environmental organizations, and schools in all major river basins of Alabama have participated in AWW. Almost 5,000 volunteers have been certified and have submitted some 60,000 data records from 2,000 sites on 750 bodies of water. The information is posted on the AWW website and is accessible to monitors, regulatory agencies, educators, and the general public. About 30 veteran monitors have become certified AWW trainers and conduct 70 to 80 percent of the 70 to 90 training sessions per year.

AWW has developed numerous educational resources, such as the Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams aquatic science curriculum for grades 4-12, which has been endorsed by the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) of the Alabama State Department of Education. Hundreds of teachers have been certified in this curriculum and have used it statewide. The curriculum has been translated into Spanish and adapted for use by an environmental education organization in Mexico known as the Global Water Watch/Gulf of Mexico Alliance Project. The AWW program has also published numerous issues of its Waterbody Report and a five-volume series of booklets titled Citizen Guide to Alabama Rivers, which are available to the public on the AWW Web site.

AWW data have been used to significantly influence water policy, such as the upgrade of Wolf Bay and the Magnolia River to Outstanding Alabama Water status. This designation mandates the highest level of protection the state can provide. Volunteer monitors have also found numerous sources of bacterial contamination and have used their data to convince municipalities, businesses, and other organizations to remedy the problems. AWW water data is regularly used by ADEM to establish lists of impaired streams and to develop pollution-control recommendations. The AWW Association directors and monitors have formed a Citizen Advisory Council that regularly meets with representatives of the Water Division in ADEM to voice concerns and learn about current environmental protection activities and policies.

The AWW program has coordinated other watershed-related research and outreach projects, such as the Saugahatchee Watershed Management Plan and the Tallapoosa Watershed Project. These projects have involved volunteer monitors, researchers, municipal officials, and others to address water quality, quantity, and policy issues at a watershed scale. AWW has also been the model for similar programs in the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and other countries via the Auburn University-based Global Water Watch program and the newly formed nonprofit called Global Water Watch, Inc.

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