Much of that effect was negative, said Elizabeth Herron, who directs the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program. “The heavy rains caused an increase in run-off of bacteria into nearby receiving waters – mostly from animal waste, but possibly also from human sources like failing septic systems – and the warm temperatures meant that those bacteria lived longer than they otherwise might,” said Herron.
“The warm water also led to an increase in harmful algal blooms,” she added. “When we have long hot, dry periods, the water heats up and gets still, allowing algae to get to the surface to get
the sunlight and nutrients they need. We’re
creating outstanding conditions for them.”
|A Watershed Watch volunteer|
Not every water body was negatively affected by the precipitation and temperature, however. Herron said that some sites had improved water quality because the heavy rains flushed contaminants out of the water.
“It’s hard to generalize, because some sites do well in wet weather and others do well in dry weather,” Herron said. “That’s why we monitor. The state can only monitor so many places, and it may not be your favorite place or the place that’s going to respond different than most. Having volunteers monitor so many sites gives us a better idea of what’s going on.”
For more than 30 years the Watershed Watch program has worked with local communities to track the many factors that affect water quality in local lakes, ponds, streams, and coastal waters and to determine their current conditions. Thanks to the program, much more is known today about how land use, seasonal weather patterns, climate change and other factors affect water bodies in good and bad ways.
The program, one of the longest running citizen science projects in Rhode Island, is now seeking additional volunteers to conduct weekly or biweekly monitoring from May to October.