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Water Quality Division

Blue Thumb logoBlue Thumb Program

Volunteer Monitoring 

Across the state of Oklahoma, over 300 volunteers actively monitor more than 80 streams in an effort to help protect these water bodies. Blue Thumb volunteer monitoring is a three step approach to learning about local streams. These steps are:

  1. Chemical monitoring: A look at water quality at the instant sample water was collected.

  2. Biological monitoring: Collection of Benthic macroinvertebrates and fish are collected to gather information on the life of the stream.

  3. Physical monitoring: Stream assessment to gather information on how the stream rates as a home for fish.

Because the Blue Thumb Program uses these three approaches to monitoring, the volunteer data can be used to gain valuable information about the state's streams.

Biological monitoring

Volunteers kick water through a net to sample
These students from the Wyandotte High School Blue Thumb stream team work together to disturb the substrate of Sycamore Creek so that benthic macroinvertebrates will flow into the kick net.

Blue Thumb volunteers participate in benthic macroinvertebrate collections each winter and summer. The macroinvertebrates are the creatures that live in the water such as insects, snails, worms, and leeches. Often the insects do not look familiar to us, because most of the insect life in the stream is in larval form, meaning they are not yet adults. As adults, most will fly away and simply then use the stream to lay eggs and begin the life cycle over.

Macroinvertebrates can serve as good indicators of stream health. Some creatures need high levels of dissolved oxygen and virtually no pollutants to thrive. Others might be found in most any waters.

Fish collections are made from Blue Thumb streams in summer, usually between July and October. A 400 meter reach of the stream is seined, and fish species are both recorded and collected. Fish, like macroinvertebrates, have difference tolerance levels to pollutants and habitat changes, so they, too, are indicators of stream health.

Students record the size of a fish from a stream
Volunteers record fish collected as indicators of stream health.

Physical monitoring

At the same time a fish collection is made, volunteers and staff members perform a habitat assessment of the stream. Information such as stream depth and width is recorded at set intervals. The type of stream substrate is noted, and whether or not there exists "cover" for fish, like logs in the water, undercut banks, or rock ledges. The amount of shade over the stream and stream bank condition is documented.

Chemical monitoring

Blue Thumb monitoring volunteers perform chemical testing at their stream sites monthly. This chemical monitoring involves performing a series of tests on the stream water, completing a data sheet, and turning in results. Volunteers complete monthly testing for dissolved oxygen, pH, ammonia nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen, orthophosphate phosphorus, chloride, temperature, and water clarity. Results are recorded on a Blue Thumb data sheet and mailed in to Blue Thumb headquarters or entered by volunteers directly online.

Volunteers learn chemical monitoring at Coal Creek
Tulsa County Blue Thumb volunteers learn to perform chemical monitoring on Coal Creek just north of Tulsa. Volunteers are asked to submit chemical monitoring data monthly.

Data quality and interpretation

In addition to field collections and monitoring, volunteers participate in quarterly quality assurance sessions. Blue Thumb staff members report to the various locations where groups monitor, and volunteers meet with staff to perform testing on known standards. Such quality assurance sessions help volunteers attain precision and accuracy, and such sessions add to the credibility of Blue Thumb data.

For volunteers who want to know more, Blue Thumb holds data interpretation sessions to help volunteers understand the results of their monitoring efforts. Volunteers then write a data interpretation for their stream, which helps them learn more about water quality, the the data they collect, and the stream they care about.

Read our stream data interpretations written by volunteers!

Last Modified on 10/22/2007