Citizen Stream Monitoring Program
The Citizen Stream-Monitoring Program (CSMP) combines the knowledge and commitment of interested citizens with the technical expertise and resources of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Volunteer stream monitors are a critical component of Minnesota’s Water Quality Strategy.
Video: Citizen Water Testers in Action
By Tom Niemisto, MN2020 Video Production Specialist
The MPCA's network of 1,400 volunteers across the state are making a difference in protecting our state's lakes and streams. Could you be our next volunteer?
On this page
When CSMP began in 1998, 17 volunteers monitored 22 sites. Today, almost 400 volunteers monitor over 500 sites across Minnesota’s ten major river basins. With more than 92,000 river miles in Minnesota, there are many streams and rivers that need citizen monitors.
- Help determine the condition of Minnesota streams by expanding our water-quality monitoring network.
- Provide the opportunity for anyone interested to participate in a basic, centrally administered and interpreted stream monitoring program.
- Support existing volunteer monitoring programs.
- Facilitate awareness and understanding of water-quality issues, and promote shared responsibility for protection of Minnesota's water resources.
About once a week during the summer, volunteers visit an established spot on a nearby stream and measure the following:
What it tells us:
Transparency tube - clear, 60 cm-long tube with colored disk on the bottom for measuring depth at which disk is visible
The clarity of stream water: how much sediment, algae, and other materials are suspended in the water.
Observation of stream-water color
Potential causes of low transparency readings (e.g., sediment, algae, bog stain).
Visual assessment on a scale of 1-5 (1=very good, 5=very poor)
The perceived suitability of a stream for fishing, swimming, or boating.
Visual estimate (low, normal, high)
Water level: If changes in water level, which may occur during rainfall events, affect transparency and appearance.
*CSMP volunteers are encouraged to also track daily precipitation at their home by joining CoCoRaHS - Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, a national network that provides quality precipitation data for natural resource, education and research applications.
Tracking water transparency is like monitoring your blood pressure because it tells us about the health of a stream. A low transparency reading reflects excess sediment (soil material) or other suspended material, like algae, in the water. Consistently low transparency readings indicate poor water quality. To find out more about the kind of information CSMP monitoring provides, check out the following documents and sites:
- What is a Transparency Tube and What Does it Measure?
- Guide to Interpreting Transparency Readings — This document breaks transparency readings into four categories from ‘Poor’ to ‘Excellent’ as a benchmark for comparison of Citizen Stream-Monitoring Program transparency readings.
- The Interactive Hydrograph See a series of photos showing how an agricultural field, adjoining ditch, and a river system react to rain events throughout the growing season.
Changes over time in transparency, appearance and recreational suitability can serve as yardsticks to measure improvements or declines in water quality. Here are some examples of how CSMP data are used:
- Water quality assessment and impairment determination
Transparency tube readings are good predictors of the turbidity (cloudiness) of the water. CSMP transparency data are used to assess the condition of MN streams under the Federal Clean Water Act. When a stream transparency reading is below 20 centimeters, the state limit, or “standard” for turbidity is exceeded:
Turbidity/Transparency -- Statewide
- Before and after a change in upstream land use
If a land management change is planned near a stream or river, select a monitoring site just downstream of where the change will take place. Monitor before and after the change occurs to detect any potential effects on the stream.
- Seasonal storm monitoring
Compare CSMP data for rainfall events during spring, summer, and fall to background or baseflow (low flow) conditions. Keep track of upstream land management practices or crop status during this period.
- Upstream and downstream of a water quality improvement project
Monitor a site upstream, and a site downstream of a stormwater retention pond or stream vegetative buffer (fenced area along the edges of a stream) to evaluate its effectiveness at reducing sediment inputs.
For more information on water quality standards and the Impaired Waters Program, check out the following:
Be sure to check out the latest CSMP publications for additional information.
- CSMP Electronic Data Sheet — The electronic datasheet is a Microsoft Excel document, and includes completion and submittal instructions. If you use the electronic datasheet, you do not need to send in your paper datasheet.
- CSMP Paper Datasheets: To obtain paper datasheets, please contact CSMP staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota) or 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities Metro Area).
Instructions for Transparency Tube Classroom Activity and Student Project
The following three documents provide guidance for conducting a classroom activity or student project using the transparency tube. “What is a Transparency Tube” describes the tool and what water quality information it measures. “How to Take Stream Transparency Readings” gives step by step instructions for taking a T-tube reading. “Transparency Tube Activity” outlines how to lead a classroom activity or student project that involves collecting water samples from area rivers, taking transparency readings, and discussing results. If you have questions, please contact the CSMP coordinator at 1-651-757-2750 (Twin Cities Metro Area) or 1-800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota)
- What is a Transparency Tube and What Does it Measure?
- How to Take Stream Transparency Readings
- Transparency Tube Activity
Environmental education sites:
Other volunteer monitoring sites:
- CoCoRaHS — Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network
- Summary of Volunteer Monitoring Websites
- EPA's Volunteer Monitoring Program
- Hennepin Conservation District Riverwatch Program
- Indiana Riverwatch
- Malibu Creek Stream Team
- Massachusetts Water Watch Partnership Data Presentation Manual for monitoring groups
- Minnesota DNR's Adopt-A-River Program
- Minnesota Waters
- Missouri Stream Team (includes a macroinvertebrate key, pictures, and sketches)
- Pennsylvania's Senior Volunteer Corps
- The Watershed Partners Volunteer Stream Monitoring Partnership
- Vermillion River Watch
- Water Quality Terminology, Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network (BASIN)
If you need additional information or assistance, please contact: Laurie Sovell or Louise Hotka at 800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota), 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities Metro Area), email email@example.com or by mail at Citizen Stream Monitoring Program, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., St. Paul, MN 55155.