Citizen scientists are addressing a number of California’s growing watershed challenges through grassroots efforts around the state. There is perhaps no place this is more true than with the Yuba River Waterkeeper, the Sierra Nevada’s first-ever waterkeeper.
Here, a number of issues call for the support of citizen scientists: a growing population is putting increasing pressure on the river. Agriculture demands ever-more water be drained from tributaries. And climate change continues to exert effects on California’s watershed, including erosion, forest fires, and leaching of sediments into the watershed. Each of these together make it essential to protect the water that sustains so much life.
In 2016, Yuba River Waterkeeper was approved as a member of the international group, Waterkeeper Alliance. The group was borne out of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), a grassroots activism group founded in 1983 with the goal to protect the river from damming projects. They won (permanent protections were placed on 39 miles of the South Yuba River) and the SYRCL became a central hub of community activism promoting the protection, restoration, and celebration of this remarkable river.
Joining the Swim Guide as an affiliate is only the latest of a string of important steps the SYRCL has taken to protect the river. Through Swim Guide, the group shares beach monitoring data from their award-winning citizen science monitoring model.
How does the program work? Dedicated volunteers “adopt” sites and visit them monthly, where they take various tests to assess the health of the river: turbidity, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and pH, all among them. River Monitors are trained by the group in water quality sampling, and are made up of high school students, senior citizens, and everyone in between. The group currently comprises 45 active monitors, and this number grows every year.
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