Stream Monitoring in the Pawcatuck Watershed

Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA)
URI Watershed Watch (URIWW)

Project Leader: Denise J. Burgess
Program Director
Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association
203 Arcadia Road
Hope Valley, RI 02832


Funding Sources Partners in Resource Protection (PRP) $ 9,000
Forrest C. Lattner Foundation 5,000
Captain Planet 1,280
Rhode Island State Senate Grant 1,000
North Stonington Citizen Land Alliance (NSCLA) 1,500
Hopkinton Conservation Commission 480
Locustville Pond Association 300
URE Outfitters 100


Technical Steering Committee: Rob Adler US EPA, Region 1
Gardner Bent USGS
Mike Burdon WPWA Intern
Denise Burgess WPWA
Jim Campell USGS
Lawson Cary Trout Unlimited, Narr. Chapter
Dennis Erkan RI DEM, Division of Fish & Wildlife
Ryan Kelly URI Coastal Fellow
Elizabeth Heron URI Watershed Watch
Jim Latimer US EPA
Jim McCutcheom N. Stonington Citizen Land Alliance
Merrill Moone WPWA
Vicky Drew NRCS
Dr. Saul Saila WPWA


Volunteer monitoring of community lakes, rivers, and streams has taken on greater importance over the last decade. Budget and personnel limitations on local, state, and federal agencies have left large gaps in data collection, particularly on minor water bodies. Volunteers have been shown to be willing and capable of adequate data collection, particularly on water bodies in which they have a personal interest. Data collected by volunteers have increasingly provided useful information to decision makers regarding water quality over the past decade.
URI Watershed Watch, founded in 1987 with advisors and volunteers from WPWA, has used volunteers to monitor lakes, ponds, and large rivers throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. Since 1990, monitors in the Pawcatuck Watershed have had the option of conducting tributary water sampling in conjunction with their lake monitoring. Several volunteers have participated in this supplemental monitoring, documenting great variation in stream water quality. The 1998 project was started because it was clear that a systematic collection of data over a period of years could provide baseline data on stream systems, and perhaps highlight differences between natural variations and those caused by anthropogenic events. The 1998 project indicated that, although there were limitations, properly-trained and supported volunteers could provide useful stream flow information.

Monitoring Sites and Methodology:

Members of the technical steering committee met to select sites and discuss the methodology of data collection. The committee included representatives from federal agencies, URI WW, and various local stakeholder groups. Results from the 1998 project were reported to the committee for review.
Several decisions were made regarding the ongoing effort in 1999. The first was to continue dry weather monitoring during the growing season because these data could address concerns related to irrigation impacts on stream flow. The second was to continue monitoring the eight sites from 1998: five on the Beaver River (Richmond, RI) and three on the Green Falls River (North Stonington, CT). Third, the committee decided to add seven new monitoring sites: three on the Meadow Brook (Richmond, RI), and four in the Queens River watershed (Exeter and South Kingstown, RI). Meadow Brook was selected to expand efforts of student groups currently sampling the stream. The four streams in the Queens were selected because the USGS, under contract with the Pawcatuck Watershed Partnership (PWP) Water Use Stakeholder Group, was in the midst of a two-year water use study in that watershed.
For the continuing program in the year 2000, the committee decided to add five more sites in the Locustville Pond watershed, at the request of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission, and two additional sites in the Queens watershed (only one of those sites was actually monitored in 2000.) The Locustville Pond sites were added in response to concerns about changes in water quality due to several very large subdivisions under construction, and others that were proposed for construction in the near future.
Volunteers were available for most of the sites (see Tables 1 and 2), with many returning for the second year. WPWA interns monitored sites that did not have volunteers.

Volunteer Recruitment and Training:

The manual for this program, entitled Volunteer Monitoring of Streams in the Pawcatuck Watershed, was developed in 1998, using the URI WW publication Advanced Training for Water Quality Volunteers: Stream Monitoring, and the USEPA publication Volunteer Stream Monitoring: A Methods Manual.
Volunteer monitors from WPWA, NSCLS, and area schools participated in classroom sessions and field workshops developed by URI WW. URI WW and WPWA jointly conducted the field training, with assistance from members of the Narragansett Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Monitors who were unable to attend training classes were field trained and instructed by WPWA.
Students and teachers from two schools, Chariho Middle School and Richmond Elementary School, also conducted monitoring on Meadow Brook. Special training classes were conducted by WPWA at the schools, along with classes on water quality and habitat assessments. Teachers used the stream monitoring as part of their science curriculums. Funding for the school participation was provided by a $1,280 grant from Captain Planet and a $1,000 grant from the RI State Senate.
Volunteers collected temperature data and dissolved oxygen levels on a weekly or biweekly basis. At the same time they read and recorded the level of in-stream staff gauges, which were installed at allocations by the interns. Some of the difficulties encountered included getting gauges installed at several of the sites, having gauges removed by vandals, or by road construction crews working near the sites. These, and other simpler setbacks, have resulted in insufficient data points at some of the sties to produce acceptable stage/discharge relationship curves for those sites.
Approximately once per month from May to October, volunteers collected water samples for bacteria, total phosphorus, dissolved phosphorus, chloride, total nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, and pH analysis, performed at URI WW laboratory using US EPA approved procedures. Volunteers collected water samples on approximately a monthly basis for analysis in the URI WW laboratory. The results are listed in Tables 3 through 14. Dissolved oxygen and temperature results are listed in Graphs 1 through 13. Elevated bacteria levels were most often associated with rain events, some of which were not uniform throughout the sub-watersheds. Nutrient fluctuations were evident, but further monitoring will be necessary to identify a trend. Continued monitoring of water quality conditions will also be necessary to establish baseline conditions.
The North Stonington Citizen Land Alliance (NSCLA) provided volunteers and funding for all water quality analysis on the Green Falls River sites. The Hopkinton Conservation Commission and the Locustville Pond Association each provided some funding for water quality analysis of sites within the Locustville Pond watershed.
One of the lessons learned from 1998 was that stream flow measurements were sometimes beyond the training level of project volunteers, and therefore an important change in 1999 was the hiring of interns during the summer who were trained to obtain flow measurements at each of the monitored sites. The goal was to get enough data points to produce a stage/discharge curve at each site that would fall within acceptable confidence levels. Undergraduate student interns from URI Natural Resources Science were recruited by WPWA and trained jointly by URIWW, WPWA, and USGS, to perform stream flow measurements at the sampling sites using a Rickly Hydrological Company pygmy current meter (Columbus, Ohio) . Two interns were hired in 1999; one in 2000. Funds from the PRP grant covered the cost of intern salaries. The current meter was purchased with the PRP grant, and upon the recommendation of a USGS representative on the technical steering committee. Each site was to be measured during several different flow stages by the WPWA interns.

Table 1. Volunteers and Sites for 1999

Site Location Volunteer Name
Green Falls #1 Green Falls Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Green Falls #2 Rutker Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Green Falls #3 Clark Falls Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Meadow Brook #1 Richmond School, Kingstown Road (Rt. 138), Richmond, RI Richmond School Students 4th grade, Suzann Waterous
Meadow Brook #2 Pine Hill Road, Richmond, RI CMS 7th Grade Students,
Dan Potts
Meadow Brook #3 Tuckahoe Turf Farm, Switch Road, Richmond, RI CMS 7th Grade Students
Dan Potts
Beaver River #1 Old Mountain Road, Richmond, RI Roberta Engle
Beaver River #2 Hillsdale Road, Richmond, RI Roberta Engle
Beaver River #3 Rt. 138 & Beaver River Road, Richmond, RI Brian & Michael Smith
Beaver River #4A Schoolhouse Road, Richmond, RI WPWA Intern
Beaver River #4B Shannock Hill Road, Richmond, RI WPWA Intern
Beaver River #5 Lewistone Avenue, Richmond, RI Merril Moone
Queen's #1
Sherman Brook Dug Way Bridge Road, Exeter, RI Peter & Ginny Stack
Queen's #2
Locke Brook Mail Road, Exeter, RI WPWA Intern
Queen's #3
Fisherville Brook Williams Reynolds Road, Exeter, RI WPWA Intern
Queen's #4 Queen's River Williams Reynolds Road, Exeter, RI Peter Brownell

Table 2. Volunteers and Sites for 2000

Site Location Volunteer Name
Green Falls #1 Green Falls Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Green Falls #2 Rutker Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Green Falls #3 Clark Falls Road, North Stonington, CT Jim McCutcheom
Meadow Brook #1 Richmond School, Kingstown Road (Rt. 138), Richmond, RI Richmond School Students 4th grade, Suzann Waterous
Meadow Brook #2 Pine Hill Road, Richmond, RI CMS 7th Grade Students,
Dan Potts
Meadow Brook #3 Tuckahoe Turf Farm, Richmond, RI CMS 7th Grade Students
Dan Potts
Beaver River #1 Old Mountain Road, Richmond, RI Roberta Engle
Beaver River #2 Hillsdale Road), Richmond, RI Jack Stein
Beaver River #3 Rt. 138 & Beaver River Road, Richmond, RI Brian & Michael Smith
Beaver River #4B Shannock Hill Road, Richmond, RI Carol Mercier
Beaver River #5 Lewistone Avenue, Richmond, RI Merril Moone
Queen's #1
Sherman Brook Dug Way Bridge Road, Exeter, RI Peter & Ginny Stack
Queen's #2
Locke Brook Mail Road, Exeter, RI
  WPWA Intern
Queen's #3
Fisherville Brook Williams Reynolds Road, Exeter, RI Kevin Rooney
Queen's #4 Queen's River Williams Reynolds Road, Exeter, RI Peter Brownell
Queen's #5 Queen's River Mail Road, Exeter, RI Rosemary Gruczka
Locustville #1 Brushy Brook Saw Mill Road, Hopkinton, RI Hopkinton Conservation Comm.
Locustville #2 Brushy Brook Woody Hill Road, Hopkinton, RI Hopkinton Conservation Comm.
Locustville #3 Moscow Brook Saw Mill Road, Hopkinton, RI Hopkinton Conservation Comm.
Locustville #4 Dawley Brook Dye Hill Road, Hopkinton, RI Hopkinton Conservation Comm.
Locustville #5 Loghouse Brook Grassy Pond Road, Hopkinton, RI Hopkinton Conservation Comm.

Precipitation Data:

The summer of 1999 was an unusually dry summer, following a fairly dry year in 1998. The average monthly rainfall, as recorded at the Kingston Weather Station, in June was 0.05 inches, in July was 1.06 inches, and in August was 2.94 inches. In contrast the same months in the summer 2000 recorded 5.85 inches, 4.45 inches, and 4.85 inches. The total annual rainfall for 1999 was 29.23 inches and for 2000 was 39.65 inches.

Monitoring Site Discussion:

Beaver River

Beaver River is a relatively undeveloped watershed. Most of the upper half of the stream is in the DeCopett Estate, which includes 2000 acres of recently regenerated forests and some farm fields. South of Rt. 138 the watershed consists mainly of agricultural fields and scattered single family homes. There have been a few recent subdivisions built in the watershed. A golf course was recently built on the western edge, adjacent to Rhode Island Nature Conservancy holdings in Richmond. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) had some concerns over possible nutrient enrichment of the Beaver River as result of maintenance practices for the golf course.
Monitoring sites were altered slightly because of some confusion in 1998 over exactly where site #4 was. Therefore, flow measurements in 1999 and 2000 were done at site #4B, Shannock Hill Road, while samples were taken from site #4A, School House Road, and site #4B in 1999; and taken only at site #4B in 2000. The bridge at site #2 was rebuilt in the Spring and Summer of 2000. It was not possible to reinstall the stream gauge during that time and no flow measurements could be done. Nutrient sampling and DO measurements were continued. The stream bed at site #5 is mostly a braided stream and wetland complex, making it unsuitable for proper flow measurements. Therefore no stage/discharge curve was developed for this site. The volunteer at this site discontinued sampling for 2000.
Bacteria levels were relatively high in 1999, a dry summer. They were below EPA standards for 2000, except for a spike at site #5. There are several possible explanations for this spike. The site is just below several agricultural fields, and the cause could be wildlife frequenting the fields towards the end of summer. There is also a dairy farm to the east, although some distance away. It could also have been due to a recent rain event that created enough overflow to carry some of the manure into the stream.
Nitrate levels were also relatively high in the lower sites of the sub-basin, particularly in 1999. This trend was continued at sites 4 & 5, particularly towards the end of summer. Elevated nitrate levels could be the result of agricultural practices in the area. Phosphorus and chloride were present, but not significant, and the pH was somewhat acidic, averaging within normal limits for streams.

Meadow Brook

The Meadow Brook begins north of Rt. 138 in Richmond from wetlands, including wet meadows that are also used as grazing pastures for a dairy farm. It continues south of Rt. 138 through a completely denuded area of a golf course before draining the greater part of the Carolina Management Area. It then runs through a forested buffer that is surrounded by turf fields before emptying into the Meadowbrook Pond.
The pond has been monitored routinely since 1988 by WPWA. Its water quality has fluctuated over this period, but it is generally classified as mesotrophic.
Because Meadow Brook is in close proximity to two schools, it was monitored as much for the educational value as well as information data. The area near Rt. 138 tends to dry up completely during mid to late summer. It then flows intermittently with sufficient rain events until late fall when it tends to flow until the following summer.
The first site, behind Richmond elementary school, is slightly impounded, allowing sufficient water to support aquatic insects. Although a stream gauge was installed at this location with permission from the Richmond Town Council, flow measurements were not consistent due to the installation of wire netting near the impoundment. Its apparent purpose was to hold fish for a youth fishing derby sponsored by the town. Measurements were taken below the impoundment but they are not deemed accurate. At the second site flow measurements were only taken in 1999 because the stream gauge was apparently removed before the 2000 monitoring season.
Nutrients were relatively low, with a moderately high nitrate readings for mid-summer in both years. Total phosphorus and chlorides were low or not present. As is typical, the stream tended to be just slightly acidic. Bacteria was a big concern both years at site #1, most likely due to ducks and geese that frequent the little impoundment.
The relatively low nutrient readings at site #3 may indicate that there is little or no nutrient loading from the turf fields nearby. It may also mean that any excessive nutrient problems in Meadowbrook Pond come from sources of contamination directly adjacent to the pond. It is recommended that consideration be given to these issues in future monitoring studies.

Green Falls River

The Green Falls sub-basin is almost entirely within Connecticut. The northern end of the basin starts in Voluntown, where feeder streams in the Pachaug State Forest empty into Green Falls Pond. This is an impounded area, used now primarily for recreational purposes. The Green Falls River begins at the dam and flows through more of the Pachaug State Forest until it enters North Stonington. From there the land use becomes mostly agricultural. It flows into a wetland complex and then into the Ashaway River near the border of RI and CT, adjacent to Rt. 95. The North Stonington Citizen Land Alliance, which sponsored the three sites on this river, was concerned about the possible impacts from agricultural practices.
Bacterial counts tended to be high during the summer of 1999, particularly at site #3. In 2000, sites #1 & 2 did not exceed EPA standards for recreational contact. Site #3 did exceed the standards consistently throughout the summer, with the highest levels in May.
Phosphorus levels were low throughout both years, as was ammonia-nitrogen. Nitrates, however were relatively high at site #3, with a spike that went off the scale in July 1999. Chlorides remained low both years and pH was normal for northeastern streams.
The higher bacteria and nitrate counts at site #3 could be an indication of nutrient loading from the dairy farm to the north of the site. Further investigation into these issues is recommended for future monitoring studies.

Queens River Watershed

The Queens River runs through a variety of land uses and includes habitats that support several species of concern. This watershed is primarily forest and agricultural land, with an historic village and mill along an impoundment near the southern part. There is increased development pressure here and elsewhere in the Pawcatuck watershed. There is also potential for an industrial or large residential complex at the site of the former Ladd center.
The PWP Water Use Stakeholder Group selected the Queens River sub-basin for a pilot assessment of existing water use and habitat needs in 1998. In 1999 and 2000, the USGS collected data to be used in a hydrological model to determine how much water is in the Queens River watershed, amounts needed to meet current needs, and possible effects of future land use changes. They also conducted habitat assessments on several of the secondary and tertiary streams as well as the Queens River to determine the possible impacts of instantaneous flow fluctuations on the aquatic ecosystem. Three of the sites for the WPWA study were selected to coincide with sites already being used by USGS.
Four sites were established late in the summer of 1999. Site #1, Sherman Brook, is a small primary brook that occasionally stops flowing during very dry years. Gardner road, which runs parallel to the west, has been developed into parts of the small watershed. Site #2, Locke Brook, is also a primary stream that maintains a good flow throughout the year. There is a small reservoir impounded near the beginning of the stream to the north. It is considered one of the best habitats for native brook trout. Site #3, Fisherville Brook, is a secondary stream that flows primarily through forested areas. Audubon Society of Rhode Island has property on the northern section of this watershed. Site #4, Queens River, is on the property of Peter Brownell, who also volunteered to collect data. It is in the upper third of the watershed, downstream of the Exeter Country Club golf course, and north of the former Ladd Center. In 2000, a fifth site was added on the Queens at Mail Road. This site is downstream of the Ladd Center.
Bacteria counts were low at all of the sites except site #5, which was above EPA standards in August and September 2000. This site is used as a swimming hole, which may have contributed to the higher count. Total phosphorus and ammonia-nitrogen was low for all sites in both years. Nitrates were high at site #4, Queens River on the Brownell property, in July of 2000. This may be due to heavy rains in late June and early July washing nutrients downstream from the golf course. Chloride levels were low at all sites. All the sites tended to be slightly acidic. Site #1 showed the most acidity with 6 readings out of 9 over the two-year period below a pH of 6.0.

Locustville Watershed

The Locustville Pond Association and the Hopkinton Conservation Commission requested that WPWA add some of the streams that drained into the Locustville Pond in Hopkinton to the list of monitoring sites for 2000. This area of the town has large tracts of undeveloped land of mostly second growth forests and farms. There are several large developments being proposed in the western part of the Locustville watershed, upstream of the pond. These developments include hundreds of housing units (condominiums as well as single- family homes.) One development, which is nearing final approval, will include a golf course that will in part drain into Brushy Brook.
The same volunteer who regularly monitored Locustville Pond had monitored two sites on Sawmill Road occasionally in the past. Both of these sites, where the road crosses Brushy Brook and Moscow Brook, will be just downstream from two of the developments. Another site, where Brushy Brook crosses Woody Hill Road, was selected because it is just upstream of the one of the proposed developments. However, just above and below this site Brushy Brook crosses through a pasture field for cows, and may receive heavy influence from that land use. Another site, Dawley Brook, which is unnamed on the USGS topographical map, was selected because it drains from the Arcadia Management Area. It may represent a relatively unimpacted stream. A fifth site, Loghouse Brook where it crosses Grassy Pond Road, was selected because it is upstream of one of the other proposed developments. There are concerns about this site also, because it is immediately downstream of a swamp. Dissolved Oxygen levels are very low, and may be due to anoxic conditions normally present in the swamp. The only stream gauges are at the two sites on Sawmill Road. Plans for 2001 include installation of gauges on Grassy Pond Road for Loghouse Brook, and on Woody Hill Road for Brushy Brook.
Bacteria count was high for site #1, Brushy Brook at Sawmill, for July, August and September. It is downstream from site #2, which only had one recorded high reading in August. Monitoring for that site had just been started. In contrast, site #3, Moscow Brook, which is less than 1000 feet from site #1, showed low bacteria counts all summer and was still just below EPA standards in September. The high bacteria counts at site #1 may be attributed to the presence of small horse farms and a small dairy farm upstream. Nitrates also tended to be higher at site #1, with very little or none detected at the other sites. Ammonia-nitrogen, total phosphorus, and chlorides were low or not detected at all of the sites. The pH readings fluctuated at all the sites, with the lowest readings in September. Site #1 had a reading of 4.8, site #2 read 4.6 and site #3 read 5.7. Only two readings were done at site #5 in August and September but they both showed the site to be very acidic. The anoxic conditions in the swamp just upstream may be the biggest contributing factor to the acidity of the site. Dissolved oxygen levels at all the sites remained within acceptable standards for trout habitat.


This two-year project demonstrated that volunteer monitoring programs could successfully provide much needed stream data to augment professionally collected data. It is important to maintain staff support in the form of actual flow measurements. It is better to have volunteers monitor stream height, rather than stream flow. It is also helpful to provide backup for the volunteers if they are unable to collect water samples on the designated days. The staff gauges can continue to be read by volunteers on a regular basis to determine changes in stream levels. Once a stage/discharge relationship has been established it will require routine re-calibration to ensure accuracy of the measurements. Re-calibration includes assessing the site to ensure that the stream channel has not been significantly altered, measuring stream flow, and re-calculating the stage-discharge relationship. WPWA found it important to this project to have a seasonal intern to regularly check all the sites, perform flow measurements, and to collect water samples when needed.
Most of the data collected over the course of this projects suggests that, other than irregular spikes in bacteria and nitrates, there are relatively few major implications of high impacts on the streams monitored. High bacteria counts can usually be traced to wildlife use of the area, agricultural practices, or human use. Nitrate levels need to be followed more carefully. However, because of increased development on all the subwatersheds monitored in this project, indications of impact are likely in the future. WPWA will continue to monitor the same sites for 2001 in order to establish baseline data and refine techniques.
Recommended planning for the next two to five years should include consideration of developing a strategic monitoring plan for surface waters in its watershed area. Beyond the collection of baseline data, and strategically implemented to coincide with potentially harmful toxic events or land use practices, such monitoring activity will contribute to a better understanding of rapidly changing water quality indicators and will suggest means for sustaining existing pristine areas as well as improving impacted portions of the watershed. A strategic monitoring effort is a logical next step in this project. The benefits as well as limitations of the results of these initial studies may be used in the further development and application of a strategic monitoring plan. The sampling design for strategic monitoring could emphasize sampling sites above and below major perceived sources of contamination. Transient water quality sampling will also be undertaken in the field using automatic data loggers. Parameters measured by the data loggers will include conductance, water temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen.
It is generally known that population growth and land use changes often may result in the degradation of water quality. The Pawcatuck Watershed, consisting of more than 190,000 acres, has experienced up to 35% growth in some of its rural towns, and roughly 20% growth overall, according to 2000 census figures. Increased development activity including residential housing, commercial development, and several new golf courses have strengthened the argument that water demand, water use, and water quality must be addressed with regard to preservation of water supplies. Moreover, a better understanding is needed of the effects of multiple land uses on water quality when they are addressed on a watershed scale. Our strategic monitoring activities will consider the entire watershed area as well as the many factors, which may influence water quality.


Laboratory Results Dissolved Oxygen and Temperature Stream Flow