Celebrating 20 Years of Citizen Science

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As we reminisce on 20 years of River Monitoring at SYRCL, we recognize our achievements and the incredible citizen-scientists who have helped us along the way. The River Monitoring Program was built by passionate and devoted community members, and today, the program is fortified by that same passion and support.

This program operates as a protector of the Yuba River. Our work involves tracking water quality trends, recognizing disruptions to the natural cycles of the river, spotting unusual spikes in water quality, and maintaining general river health.

From the start of the program in 2000, we have worked to expand our monitoring sites to include a variety of tributaries, provide a more thorough coverage of the watershed, and target specific issues of concern. In addition, we have launched several special monitoring projects that require assistance outside routine monthly monitoring, including stormwater sampling, temperature data logger operations, and bio-assessment projects.

Let’s Talk Numbers

Our water quality projects are inspired and strengthened by our dedicated citizen-scientists. The time and energy they put forth into data collection is remarkable, and our robust dataset is a true testament to their dedication.  

What & Where We Monitor

Over the years, water quality testing has been conducted across 150 sites in the Yuba River Watershed. The map below displays our watershed, its forks and tributaries, and every sampling location since 2000.

Each site shown in the map above is monitored and classified under one of the following categories: 

  1. Long Term Monitoring
  2. Mine Land Streams
  3. Restoration-Success Monitoring
  4. Dam-Affected Reaches 
  5. Bacteria Contamination of Recreational Waters
  6. Development Impacts (Upper South Yuba River)
  7. Nutrient and Chemical Run-Off 
  8. Invasive and Sensitive Species 

To learn more about each category, click here. 

Continuity of Data: 20 Year Dataset

Currently, our citizen scientists sample 35 locations across the Yuba watershed on a monthly basis. Many of these sites have been monitored at least 10 years and some up to 20! Collecting consistent data allows us to look at long-term trends and evaluate watershed health. 

What have we found from our multi-year dataset? Recently, we ran a trend-analysis which showed significant decreases in dissolved oxygen across the majority of our monitoring stations. The map below outlines the Yuba River Watershed, with each dot representing a river monitoring site. With years of data from each site & trend-analysis capabilities, we are able to see that 25 of these sites are indicating an overall decrease in dissolved oxygen levels. 

Why is this happening? Warmer air temperatures can lead to warmer water temperatures, which can create harmful algal blooms. As algae builds up in the water, dissolved oxygen levels decrease, which can threaten sensitive aquatic species. 

There are many benefits to sustaining this reliable, 20 year dataset. As climate change continues to threaten our waterways, riparian vegetation, and aquatic organisms, it is essential to monitor every aspect of the Yuba River and its alterations. Moreover, with 20 years of data and decades of data to come, SYRCL is better equipped to mitigate and investigate water quality issues, while making predictions about the future health of the Yuba River.

Where Does All This Data Go?

How does this data benefit our community and beyond? Water quality data is submitted to a variety of organizations, including the US Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, the State Water Resources Control Board “Safe to Swim” program, and the California Natural Diversity Database.

At the end of the year, data from our long-term monitoring stations is uploaded to the California Environmental Data Exchange Network (CEDEN) as a resource for government and non-profit entities.This data is also uploaded each month to www.riverdb.org, a custom water-quality database that is shared and used by local non-profits. This website is multifaceted in that uploaded data instantly becomes interactive and available to the public. Viewers can select river monitoring sites, years, and water quality parameters to compare the dataset over time and generate custom graphs for visualizing trend analyses.

RiverDB Case Study: Throughout the seasons, it is natural for river temperatures to fluctuate. That being said, dams have the capability to modify the intrinsic temperatures of a river. Spaulding Dam, for instance, has bottom-release facilities (only releases water from the bottom of the reservoir); therefore, downstream water tends to be abnormally cold from a lack of sunlight. 

This type of water temperature disturbance can be seen on RiverDB in just a few clicks. The boxplots below show average water temperature data (from 2000-present) at 3 of SYRCL’s long term monitoring sites: Langs Crossings, South Yuba Below Washington, and Indian Springs. It is important to note that Indian Springs is located above Spaulding Dam, Langs Crossing sits directly below Spaulding Dam, and S Yuba Below Washington is further downstream of Langs Crossing. 

Langs Crossing (middle boxplot) displays small variations in water temperature, as Spaulding Dam continuously dumps cold water into this site throughout the year. In contrast, Indian Springs (left boxplot) shows natural variability in water temperature, primarily because it is not affected by the dam. Finally, South Yuba Below Washington (right boxplot), shows fairly natural variability in water temperatures, proving that the river is able to recover as it flows further downstream of the dam.

Want to explore more of the Yuba River and this 20 year dataset? Click here

Our New River Monitoring Plan & the Next 20 Years

July 2000: Maureen Rose presents the first ever River Monitoring Program Plan

      Our 2020 River Monitoring Plan: 

At the start of 2020, we released our new River Monitoring Plan, originally written in 2000. This updated plan reinforces the benefits of our citizen-science framework, outlines the pressing water quality needs of the Yuba River, and will be critical in guiding our work for the next 20 years. 

See below to read the full report. 

As we set new goals for continued success, SYRCL would like to thank its members, volunteers and the entire community for sustaining this program and for continuing to support these important data collection efforts. Your time, insight, and unrivaled love for the Yuba River Watershed is greatly appreciated.

Want to learn more about our River Monitoring Program or become a River Monitor in 2020? Contact our River Monitoring Coordinator, Jaclyn Sherman, at jaclyn@yubariver.org or Hydrologist, Karl Ronning, at karl@yubariver.org.

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One Comment

  1. Fraser Shilling says:

    It is so awesome to see the continued success of the Monitoring Program. I sat with Maureen Rose in 1999 coming up with the long-term (sentinel) and other site categories for the first 26 sites and we worried about whether 10 or 20 years later the sites would still have been a good choice. It is amazing to look back to those moments 20 years ago and think maybe we got it right (or at least if we didn’t its too late now :)). And when we trained the first volunteers, we really had no idea whether the whole thing would stick, or whether people who keep doing it for long enough to make a difference. There are few other programs in the world that can claim the level of persistence and growth that SYRCL’s monitoring program can. I am proud to have had a small role in starting it and congratulate all of the Science Directors, Volunteer Coordinators, and volunteers who have kept the endeavors going.

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