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Standard Core

Standard Core Training and Monitoring

water quality emblemStandard Core monitoring involves performing tests for parameters such as conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, total depth, water and air temperature, and water transparency using a chemical Standard Core kit. In addition to these parameters, Standard Core citizen scientists also conduct various field observations.


Standard Core Water Quality Parameters and Field Observations

  • Air temperature is one of the most important measurements to perform because it dramatically affects all biological, physical and chemical processes within the water.

    During monitoring procedures, air temperature is measured in degrees Celsius (°C) using an armored, centigrade thermometer.

  • Conductivity measures the amount of dissolved ions in water, which gives the water the ability to conduct electricity. There are a wide variety of inorganic substances or dissolved solids like sodium, chloride, sulfate, calcium, bicarbonate, nitrates, phosphates, iron, magnesium, etc. in water. All these materials at certain concentrates are essential for life and all have the ability to carry an electrical current. Water with high concentrations of dissolved solids has a high level of conductivity.

    Aquatic animals and plants are adapted for a certain range of conductivity. Outside of this range they will be negatively affected and, if the conditions persist, they may die. Some aquatic animals and plants can handle high conductivity levels but not low, while others can handle low conductivity levels but not high.

    View our Standard Core Water Quality Conductivity Monitoring video to learn more about conductivity and our protocols.

  • Dissolved oxygen (DO) is a measure of the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, as well as the amount of oxygen available to aquatic plants and animals. Dissolved oxygen is a byproduct of plant photosynthesis and atmospheric aeration and is an essential indicator of stream health. DO is typically measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L), parts per million (ppm), and % saturation.

    Dissolved oxygen is essential for all aquatic plants and animals. Low oxygen levels (typically between 3-5 mg/L) pose a threat to fish and aquatic organisms and makes it difficult for them to reproduce, feed, and survive.

    View our Standard Core Water Quality Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring video to learn more about dissolved oxygen and our protocols.

  • pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic (alkaline) a solution is. When water has a pH of 7 it is said to be neutral, or balanced. Anything below 7 indicates the water is acidic (more free hydrogen ions in solution), and anything above 7 indicates the water is alkaline (more free hydroxyl ions in solution).

    Most organisms have adapted to life in water of a specific pH. A change in the pH of water can alter the behavior of other chemicals in the water, which may affect aquatic plants and animals. For example, ammonia is harmless to fish in water that is acidic; however, as pH increases ammonia becomes toxic. Some aquatic life may die if pH changes even slightly.

    View our Standard Core Water Quality pH Monitoring video to learn more about pH and our protocols.

  • Materials that become mixed and suspended in water will reduce water clarity and make the water turbid. Many materials contribute to turbidity, which in turn reduces water clarity (transparency). When monitoring a water body, Core citizen scientists use a Secchi disk or transparency tube to measure water clarity.

    The effects of turbidity on aquatic life can be significant. It interferes with the penetration of sunlight needed for the growth of algae and sea grasses. Additionally, suspended particles can transport heavy metals and other toxic substances into habitats which support aquatic organisms.

  • Temperature affects feeding, reproduction, and the metabolism of aquatic animals. In addition, temperature affects the solubility of compounds in water, distribution and abundance of organisms living in the water, rates of chemical reactions, density inversions and mixing, and current movements.

    Temperature preferences among species vary widely, but all species can tolerate slow, seasonal changes better than rapid changes. Thermal stress and shock can occur when temperatures change more than one to two degrees Celsius in 24 hours.

  • Field Observations

    • Flow level is a field observation that describes the water level and amount of stream flow at a monitoring site on a given day. Flow level is recorded as a number value. For example, a flow level of 2 indicates that the site has a lower water level than normal.

      The flow level is determined by a citizen scientist when they arrive at their site, primarily using visual cues. Flow level is also a relative observation, meaning that as a citizen scientist becomes more familiar with their site, they become better able to determine the typical flow level. Using their knowledge of the typical site conditions, they can more accurately determine and record changes in flow level.

    • Algae cover is a field observation that describes the amount of surface and substrate algae at a site relative to typical conditions. Algae cover is an important observation because of the relationship that it has with the available DO in the water. Unusually high amounts of algae cover can also be indicative of an “algae bloom”, which can potentially result in dangerous amounts of oxygen depletion and can be hazardous to aquatic life.

      Citizen scientists record their observation when they have arrived at their monitoring site using a combination of visual cues and knowledge of typical site conditions. The algae cover is recorded on a scale of 1-5, starting with “Absent” and ending with “Dominant”.

    • Water color is a field observation that describes the color of the water sample as it appears against a white background. Water color can be reflective of the conditions of a waterbody, especially when sudden changes in water color are observed. For example, when a waterbody that is usually clear suddenly becomes a dark green or brown it could be indicative of an algae bloom, as well as increased eutrophication (productivity of the water body).

      Water color is recorded once the water sample has been collected in a bucket or other container. The water color is referenced against a white background in order to obtain a more accurate observation.

    • Water clarity is a field observation that describes the transparency of the water relative to typical site conditions. Water clarity is an important observation because the clarity/turbidity of a waterbody affects the rate of photosynthesis, and, therefore, the amount of DO in a waterbody.

      Water clarity is recorded by a citizen scientist relative to their prior knowledge of typical site conditions. It is recorded as a value ranging from “1” (clear) to “3” (turbid).  

    • Water surface is a field observation that describes the appearance of the water surface, including the presence of any unusual surface material relative to typical site conditions. For example, when the surface is clear, citizen scientists will record a value of “1” in the box. If there is noticeable surface scum, a value of “2” is recorded. A value of “3” is recorded if there is foam on the water surface, the presence of floating debris is recorded as a value of “4”, and a value of “5” is recorded is there is a noticeable sheen or oil on the water surface.

       If there is a change in the appearance of the water surface relative to typical site conditions, citizen scientist will also describe the specific change in the “Measurement Comments and Field Observations” box on their data sheet.

    • Water conditions is a field observation that is primarily intended to describe the water condition/movement of lakes, ponds and bays, however, water condition can also be used to describe changes in flow or current in rivers and creeks. Water condition is an important field observation because ripples, rapids and waves can cause an increase in the DO levels of surrounding waters.

      Citizen scientists record this observation based on prior knowledge of site conditions. Water condition is recorded as a value, for example, if a sampling site is located in an area with rapids or riffle, citizen scientists may record a value of “2” or “3” for ripples or waves.

    • Water odor is a field observation that is checked once the sample water has been collected in a bucket or other container. Sudden changes in water odor can be indicative of pollution events, algae blooms, and other water quality impairments.

      Citizen scientists check water odor by holding their nose over the sample bucket (ideally out of the breeze) and wafting the air towards their face. The observation is recorded as a value on the data sheet, for example, if the citizen scientist noticed a sulfurous, rotten egg smell, they would record a “5”.

    • Present weather is recorded once a citizen scientist arrives at their monitoring site. Present weather is an important observation because the amount of cloud cover can significantly affect the total DO in a water body.

      Present weather is recorded as a value on the data sheet. The values range from “1” for “completely clear”, to “4” for “raining”.

    • Days since last significant precipitation is recorded as the number of days since the last rainfall that occurred in the watershed up-stream of a monitoring site. This is important to include because precipitation events have long-lasting effects on water quality. For example, if a citizen scientist samples their site the day after a rainstorm, the increased amount of watershed runoff from the rain may be reflected in the water clarity, DO, and other water quality parameters.

    • Rainfall accumulation is recorded as the total rainfall (inches) that occurred in the last three days in the watershed, as well as upstream, of a monitoring location. Rainfall accumulation is important because rainfall increases runoff, which can then affect water quality.

    • Tide stage is an observation that is only recorded for coastal monitoring sites. Tidal stage describes the rise and fall of sea level that occurs due to the gravitational force exerted from the Sun and the moon, as well as the effects of the Earth’s rotation. Tidal stages cycle throughout the day at various intervals that can change between locations.

      Tide stage is recorded as a value ranging from “1” (low) to “5” (high). Tide stage is important to include on coastal sites because the stages of the tides can reflect changes in water quality, water use, and habitat conditions.

Standard Core Water Quality Citizen Scientist Training

Prerequisite: The only prerequisite for the Texas Stream Team Standard Core training is individuals must at least 14 years of age (9th grade).

Texas Stream Team Standard Core citizen scientists are certified by completing a three-phase training that measures the physical and chemical parameters of water mentioned above.

We ask citizen scientists to make a commitment to monitor at least one site monthly for at least one year. Citizen scientists performing water quality are encouraged to monitor their site(s) monthly at the same time of day each month. For example, a possible monitoring schedule would be the first Saturday of the month at 10:00 am. Adherence to a consistent monitoring time is crucial because the physical and chemical parameters fluctuate over a 24-hour period. Monitoring takes approximately one to two hours depending on the time spent traveling to the site.

  • Phase I of the training provides an introduction to Texas Stream Team and background information, field observations, water clarity and total depth, and sample collections. Side-by-side monitoring will be conducted with the certified trainer(s).

  • Phase II of the training allows trainees the opportunity to conduct field observations and monitoring procedures in the field with the assistance of the trainer(s). The trainer carefully observes the trainees' procedures, answers any questions, and corrects obvious mistakes. Whenever possible, the water body used for Phase II testing will be similar to the sites the citizen scientist trainee intends to monitor.

  • In Phase III, the trainee conducts the field observations, water quality parameter tests, and completes the monitoring form without guidance from the Trainer. When the trainer believes that each trainee has successfully completed the three training phases, the training packet is completed, and the liability forms are signed, the trainee is then considered a certified Texas Stream Team Standard Core Water Quality Citizen Scientist.