Science

Monitoring the Biology of Vermont’s Rivers and Streams

Collecting macroinvertebrates from a Green Mountain National Forest stream

Collecting macroinvertebrates from a Green Mountain National Forest stream

During the warmer months of the year, you may see biologists from the Watershed Management Division’s biomonitoring program in a stream or river near you. Every year our scientists travel throughout the state to monitor the status of Vermont’s flowing waters. We examine water chemistry, habitat conditions, and do thorough surveys of the macroinvertebrate (insects, crayfish, snails, etc.) and fish communities. Identifying the species in these communities gives us a scientific perspective on stream health and gives us an idea of what outside factors might be influencing water quality. 

This summer and fall, the staff was involved in two complimentary monitoring initiatives. The first was a collaborative monitoring program with the EPA, called the National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA).  This program involved extremely detailed assessments of 18 randomly selected rivers and streams throughout Vermont. While our staff was examining these sites, which ranged from the tiniest of brooks to the Connecticut River near Brattleboro, similar surveys were being conducted by state and federal scientists throughout the United States. The results of this national survey will be used to assess the health of flowing waters throughout the country, and to see how our regional water quality compares to the rest of the nation. The NRSA is being done every five years, and the results of the 2008-2009 survey have recently been released.

In September and October, our biologists transitioned to monitoring for our Ambient Biomonitoring Network (ABN). The ABN program is a more concentrated effort to monitor a larger quantity of Vermont’s streams and rivers over a short period of time, and has been in operation for nearly 30 years. Streams are monitored for any number of reasons; there are long-term reference sites for investigating climate change, sites used to assess potential changes in stream communities due to development, and randomly selected sites that can give us an unbiased picture of the health of Vermont’s water quality. This year, staff scientists visited over 150 streams in less than two months’ time. Efforts were mostly focused on the watersheds of a few specific rivers (such as the Missisquoi, Lamoille, and Battenkill), but monitoring also took place from the Canadian to Massachusetts borders, and all corners of Vermont. Now our biologists have again transitioned with the changing season, this time to the laboratory, where they will spend the next several months identifying macroinvertebrate specimens and analyzing data.

A large carp caught during a fish survey in the Connecticut River

A large carp caught during a fish survey in the Connecticut River