2023 Vision Award Recipient

University of Rhode Island (URI) Watershed Watch

Elizabeth Herron

Over the past 35 years, the University of Rhode Island (URI) Watershed Watch program has defined itself as a leader in Rhode Island, across New England, and across the nation as an exemplary water monitoring program. Since 1988, URI Watershed Watch has brought together more than 100 diverse organizational partners and trained thousands of volunteer water monitors. The program, currently led by Elizabeth Herron (following Linda Green’s retirement in 2018), maintains long-term partnerships with the State of Rhode Island, 14 municipalities, 23 environmental and sporting organizations, one Native American tribe, 14 lake associations/management districts, and six national organizations. URI Watershed Watch has also been a leader nationally, serving as a driving force to connect and train volunteer water monitoring program leaders across the nation for more than two decades.

URI Watershed Watch has developed new and creative approaches to water resources monitoring that address needs of local communities. With 14 lakes initially monitored, the program has expanded over time to include fresh and saltwater ponds, reservoirs, rivers, wadable streams, bays, swimming areas, and surfing beaches. In 2022 alone, more than 400 volunteers collected water quality monitoring data at more than 250 locations at sites in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. In addition, URI Watershed Watch staff engage volunteers in tracking cyanobacteria blooms and support specialized monitoring initiatives that have included stormwater monitoring, pre and post alum treatment monitoring, source tracking and aquatic invasive species monitoring.

The URI Watershed Watch program’s efforts to train and support volunteers to carry out scientifically sound, targeted water monitoring across a multitude of water body types at hundreds of sites over more than three decades have had lasting impacts. The program’s monitoring has informed research, policies, and benefited individuals, the environment, and communities. The program is a leader in developing and sustaining partnerships, in supporting water resource data acquisition and sharing in ways that address local water resources needs. Its staff have educated a cadre of informed individuals who understand and take action to protect and improve their local waterways. URI Watershed Watch staff, volunteers, and partners are well deserving of recognition for their long-term and sustained commitment to monitoring and management of waterways of Rhode Island, the northeastern US, and beyond.

The National Water Quality Monitoring Council’s Vision Award recognizes a monitoring council or group that has demonstrated extraordinary vision and cooperation in the field of water quality monitoring on a local or regional level to enhance the management and protection of aquatic resources.