Frequently Asked Questions
Adapted from Amy Eliot's Lake Superior Program Guidance

Question: Who can participate in the Water Action Volunteers (WAV) stream monitoring program?
Answer: Anyone with an interest in learning about streams and water quality is welcome to participate in the WAV program.

Question: How do I know if there is a local WAV stream monitoring program in my area?
Answer:  You can find out by going to the contacts page of this website to see if there are others monitoring streams in your area.  You can also contact the WAV Coordinator at 608-342-1633.


Level of Commitment

Question: How much time will it take for me to be a volunteer for the WAV stream monitoring program?
Answer: Your level of commitment is up to you.  Since there are now multiple levels of water quality monitoring available to you, if you wish to participate at level 2 or Level 3, it’s asked that you commit one year as a level 1 monitor (sampling once a month usually between April and October) prior to moving on to one of the other levels.  Sampling usually takes 1-2 hours per site visit.  However, there is no reason that you can’t simply attend a WAV stream monitoring training just to learn more about streams, how they function, and about the life within and chemistry of them.  The WAV program is first and foremost designed to educate Wisconsin citizens.


Question: Where should I monitor?
Answer: WAV monitoring is designed to be done on streams that are able to be safely waded into wearing hip boots or chest waders.  Some local programs ask citizens to monitor in specific locations along the length of a stream or river.  This provides an opportunity to get a snapshot of water quality within the entire watershed.  However, if you have a special place in mind that you’d like to monitor, you are welcome to monitor there.


Question:  What is monitored in the WAV stream monitoring program?
Answer: Six parameters are monitored by citizens using WAV methods in the introductory program:  Streamflow, transparency, dissolved oxygen, habitat, temperature, and macroinvertebrates.


Question: How often and at what time of day should I collect my stream monitoring data?
We recommend that stream flow, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and transparency be monitored once a month between May and October.  Assess habitat once a year in summer, and monitor biotic index twice a year, in spring and fall.  Choosing to monitor at the same time of day will help minimize some expected fluctuation in results. Please monitor in hte morning whenever possible. You should also feel free to monitor more than once a month if you wish.

The reason we ask you to monitor in the morning when posssible is that timing is important for some of the parameters. For example, because dissolved oxygen (D.O.) fluctuates during a 24-hour cycle, it’s best to collect the sample at the same time of day on each visit to your sampling site. During the day, plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis and use oxygen for respiration. At night plants continue to respire, but photosynthesis stops. An early morning sample would tell you the low point for the day.  If you’re interested, you might also sample a second time, in late afternoon, to get an idea of the fluctuation of D.O. during a given day. 

Other parameters may be affected more by the temperature or time of year than the time of day. For example, the composition of a macroinvertebrate sample collected on the same calendar day during a cold spring might look different from one collected during a warm spring.  We recommend that you monitor macroinvertebrates in late May and sometime during the first two weeks of October each year.

Generally the more standardized the method, the more comparable the data, no matter what you’re collecting.  This includes the sampling techniques used by the collector. Training, careful review of procedures, and a scientific approach to monitoring all give assurance that the data collected are reliable and can be directly compared to another volunteer’s results. Recording the date, time of day, precipitation, and water/air temperatures also put the sample results into a context that will help us understand the water quality at that moment in time.


Habitat Assessment – Conduct once per year sometime during the summer, when leaves have emerged. Time of day is not important.

Biotic Index (macroinvertebrates) – Since stream conditions often vary by season, try to collect seasonal data within the same index period, or window of time, each year. In other words, if you sample during the last two weeks of May this year, do the same next year.  Generally we recommend you collect a sample once in the spring (late May) and once in the fall (early October).   

It is also usually best to wait at least a week after a heavy rain or snow event before sampling. Heavy rains can have a scouring effect on macroinvertebrates, washing them downstream. If this happens, samples collected will not accurately reflect biological conditions. However, if you are studying the possible impact of runoff from a particular source (such as a construction site), you might decide to sample within a short time after heavy precipitation – See Event Monitoring below.

Dissolved Oxygen (D.O.) – Measure once per month. Early morning is best.  For anyone interested, sample D.O. again in late afternoon or throughout the day at set intervals to get an idea of the cyclic nature of the amount of oxygen present and when it peaks and falls. Wide daily D.O. fluctuations stress fish and other aquatic life.

Temperature – Since water temperature and atmospheric pressure affect the capacity of water to hold dissolved oxygen, take the water temperature reading at the same time as the D.O. sample.

Transparency – Monitor once per month.  Some monitors have chosen to monitor prior to a rain storm and then each day during and after the storm to track how transparency changes with storm events and how long it takes for a stream to return to background transparency after the runoff from the storm has passed.

Streamflow – Monitor once per month. Information about flow provides useful insight into such parameters as transparency.  If it’s safe and you have the time, monitoring flow along with transparency before and after a storm event can result in interesting findings about the relationship between flow and transparency.


Hach Kit Chemicals

Question: Does it matter if chemicals stick to the bottom of the dissolved oxygen (D.O.) sample bottle?
Answer: Yes and no.  In general, having some chemicals clump on the bottom won’t cause a problem, since there are more chemicals in the pillow packs than are needed for a complete reaction.  However, if a lot of clumping occurs it could be a problem and you might notice that the color of the solution is lighter than normal (the trick is remembering what color is normal!). So, here’s the solution: don’t delay capping and shaking the bottle vigorously once the D.O. #1 and D.O. #2 reagents are added, since it is really hard (if not impossible) to get chemicals off the bottom. If you have any doubts about the degree of clumping, continue, then repeat the test and compare results.

Question: Can you clarify why the Hach kit directions call for one measuring tube for measuring D.O. and the WAV instructions call for two?
Answer: Two measuring tubes allow you to determine D.O. to the nearest 0.5 mg/L instead of 1 mg/L – so WAV’s methods provide a more accurate measure. The dissolved oxygen content of the water in mg/L is the total number of drops of titrant used to get to the endpoint divided by two if two measuring tubes of prepared sample were used.
If only one measuring tube of prepared sample was used, the dissolved oxygen content is equal to the number of drops of titrant. Example: If you used two tubes of sample, you need to divide by two (13 drops divided by two tubes = 6.5 mg/L). If you only used one tube of sample, it’s the actual number of drops of titrant used (6 drops with one tube = 6 mg/L).

Question: What are the chemical reactions happening during the DO test?
Answer: The following is for the chemist in all of us. Thanks to Roger Bales & Martha Conklin of the University of Arizona for the explanation. See more!

“Reagent Powder Pillow #1 (Manganous Sulfate) MnSO4
The Manganous Sulfate in this packet reacts with the oxygen present in the water. During the reaction, the oxygen is bound to the manganese (chemical element Mn), forming a brownish solid which settles to the bottom of the bottle (MnO2). This process is called fixing the oxygen. In order for this fixation process to work, however, the solution must be at high pH, so we need the reagent in Powder Pillow #2 to make this occur.

Reagent Powder Pillow #2 has three specific chemicals present (LiOH, KI, Na-azide)
LiOH (Lithium Hydroxide) is a base, which means that in water it breaks up to form the OH- ion, and the Li+ ion. In this reaction, LiOH functions as a catalyst to activate the binding process. The binding process involved with Manganous Sulfate requires a high pH to proceed. The addition of LiOH does just that. KI (Potassium Iodide) is added to function as a dye, and will react with the sulfamic acid added, as explained below. NaN3 (Sodium Azide), is an agent added which will come into play later in the reaction sequence. Basically during the final titration Sodium Thiosulfate produces some nitrite (NO2-), which conflicts with the intended reaction. The addition of Sodium Azide prevents this conflictual reaction from occurring.

Reagent Powder Pillow #3 (Sulfamic Acid C6H13O3NS)
Upon addition of the Sulfamic Acid, the MnO2 from above is reduced to Mn2+, and the Iodine from the Potassium Iodide above is oxidized by the MnO2 - from I- to I2. This reaction step effectively causes the solution to take on a yellowish brown color proportional to the number of I2 molecules present, which in turn is proportional to the original amount of O2 molecules in the water.

MnO2 + 4H+ + 2I- = Mn2+ + I2 + 2H2O
We say at this point that the oxygen is fixed. This means that all of the oxygen from the original sample which was in solution has now been chemically modified to a form which won't change when exposed to the air. It is now in a stable form, and can be transported back to a classroom for analysis if necessary.

Sodium Thiosulfate Standard Solution
As drops of this chemical enter the solution, the Sodium separates from the thiosulfate ion. The thiosulfate then reacts with any Iodine (I2) molecules available in the water. When the Iodine molecules react, they break up into I- ions which are colorless.

2S2O32- + I2 = 2S4O62- + 2I-
What does this all tell us about the amount of oxygen in the water?

Stoichiometry (a fancy word meaning the chemical bookkeeping of the amount and concentration of chemicals in a reaction) tells us that 4 molecules of the Sodium Thiosulfate are required to change the color resulting from one molecule of O2 in the original water. This clear definition allows us to get a very accurate estimate of the number of O2 molecules in the original solution.”



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