FAQs - Coastal Carolina University
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Volunteer Water Monitoring Program

Frequently Asked Questions

What is volunteer monitoring (aka Citizen Science)?
  • When trained citizen volunteers collect scientific data
  • Examples: water quality, bird counts, turtle counts, weather, oysters (SCORE)
What are the benefits?
  • Leverages brains, experience and insights of the volunteers
  • Get more sampling done
  • Better connect data collection to community concerns and policy decisions
  • Help meet local NPDES Phase II Stormwater Program requirements
  • Promotes environmental stewardship
  • Intergenerational activity
How are the data used?
  • Identify hot spots
  • Detect illicit discharges
  • Detect trends over time
  • Document improvements from stormwater management activities
What is measured and how?
  • Bacteria (E. Coli and Total Coliform) – Easygel incubation, dual confirmation
  • Nutrients (ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) – test strips
  • Turbidity — desktop meter
  • Salinity, temperature, Oxygen, pH – field meters
Who is doing this locally?
  • Murrells Inlet (eight sites twice monthly) since 2008
  • Surfside Beach (two sites twice monthly) since 2010
  • Waccamaw River since 2006 in South Carolina (12 sites twice monthly) and expansion upstream to North Carolina since 2011 (four lake sites, two river sites) (note that sites have been added over time)
  • Briarcliffe Acres (three sites twice monthly) since 2019
Who does what?
  • Murrells Inlet 2020 provides a field leader and outreach support
  • The Winyah Rivers Alliance provides a field leader, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper
  • CCU's Waccamaw Watershed Academy provides technical support
  • City of Conway and Horry & Georgetown counties provide funding from their stormwater utility fees and technical support
  • Volunteers measure water quality at assigned sites twice a month. This takes about 45 minutes. They then upload the data online to the program's website.
What is CCU´s role?
  • Provision of training, all equipment and supplies. Includes replacement of aging/broken equipment
  • Quality control of all data
  • Retraining if data is not meeting QC requirements or at your request
  • Project SOPs and upcoming Quality Assurance Project Plan
  • Online data entry
  • Secure data archiving
  • An annual data conference for each program including data interpretation
  • Rapid response reports for illicit discharge detection
  • An annual meeting for volunteers in each program
  • Brochures
  • Project web site, including online interactive data delivery
  • Participation in World Water Monitoring Day and the Secchi Dip-In
What do volunteers do?
  • Volunteers participate in a Volunteer Monitoring Project designed to better understand and characterize local water quality in their watershed, to establish trends and to identify pollutants that may be impacting these local waters. Volunteers are trained to obtain water samples from identified sampling locations, to test those water samples using handheld meters, colorimetric strips and bacteria growth media combined with incubation, and to report the data obtained to the project administrators at Coastal Carolina University's Waccamaw Watershed Academy. Volunteers contribute to the scientific knowledge and the stewardship of their local watershed through this citizen science project and help our local municipalities meet their regulatory requirements for stormwater pollution prevention and control.
How do you become a volunteer?
  • Contact the field leader for the watershed you are interested in. Their contact information can be found here.
Where do the volunteers work?
  • Trained volunteers work as a team in the field at identified locations within their watershed and at home to conduct pre-calibration of equipment and turbidity/bacteria sampling (one or more of the volunteers is specially trained as a Master Sampler to conduct these activities). There is an identified Field Leader for each team who helps to coordinate team members. In addition, the team as a whole is supported by the Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator at Coastal Carolina University's Environmental Quality Lab and by the program director, Susan Libes, also at Coastal Carolina University.
How many hours a month does volunteer monitoring require?
  • Volunteers spend a minimum of two hours per month (about an hour for each of two monthly sampling dates at the sampling location(s) of their choice); however, volunteers who are Master Samplers and therefore responsible for pre-calibration of the equipment and/or testing of turbidity and bacteria in the water samples and/or data input into the Volunteer Monitoring database require some additional volunteer hours per month depending on their level of responsibility and involvement.
  • Regarding the Master Samplers, pre-calibration of the monitoring equipment occurs within 24 hours of the sampling date, usually the night before or early the morning of the sampling and takes about an hour.
  • Turbidity testing is also performed by Master Samplers and occurs following the on-site sampling. A water sample is obtained at the site then taken home and tested using a handheld turbidity meter requiring about an additional 0.5 hour of the volunteer's time following site sampling.
  • Bacteria sampling is probably the most time intensive since a water sample is obtained at the site, taken home, prepared and plated on growth media within 6 hours of sampling then placed into an incubator for 18-20 hours to allow the E. coli bacteria to grow. Following incubation, the E. coli colonies are counted and recorded. Bacteria samplers require an additional 0.5 hour to 1 hour at home preparing the sample and then an additional 0.5 hour to 1 hour counting the bacteria colonies 18-20 hours after the start of incubation of the sample. In total, a bacteria sampler is looking at about 2-3 hours per sampling day or about 4-6 hours per month of volunteer hours to participate.
  • Volunteers who participate in remote data entry, that is, who enter their data into the volunteer monitoring database via the internet from their home will require an additional 0.5 hour of volunteer time per sampling event.
Can I bring a friend or a child with me?
  • Yes. Public education and outreach is one of the goals of the Volunteer Monitoring Project so involving more people of all ages is encouraged. We can provide additional educational information for this purpose.