Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 9AM-5PM M-F

703-324-1460
TTY 711

12055 Government Center Parkway
Suite 905, Fairfax, VA 22035

Laura Grape,
Executive Director

New Stream Monitors Certified in Fairfax County


The stream monitoring certification workshop was a huge success this year, with a total of 23 attendees and 11 Fairfax County residents taking their certification exam! This event, held annually and co-sponsored by Northern Virginia and Prince William Soil and Water Conservation Districts, brings together stream monitoring volunteers from the surrounding area to learn more about how stream quality can be assessed using benthic macroinvertebrates.

About the Program

The NVSWCD volunteer stream monitoring program began in 1997 and is considered to be one of the larger volunteer monitoring programs in the state. The program uses protocols from the Virginia Save Our Streams (VASOS) program, a volunteer program from the Izaak Walton League of America. These protocols are used to collect macroinvertebrates, identify them, and learn how to use the number of organisms found to calculate a stream score that represents the health of the water body. NVSWCD holds introductory workshops each month, and volunteers can become certified monitors at the annual stream monitoring certification workshop.

2019 Stream Monitoring Certification Workshop

Stream monitors take the written portion of the certification test.

This year’s stream monitoring certification workshop was held on Saturday, August 10, 2019 at Manassas National Battlefield Park. After introductions, Dan Schwartz, NVSWCD Soil Scientist,  led a presentation on urban watersheds. Volunteers learned about watersheds (the area of land that drains to a body of water), increased impervious surfaces in urban environments that water cannot move through, and the effects of urbanization on local streams.

Veronica Tangiri, PWSWCD Water Quality Program Coordinator,  spoke to the volunteers about the VASOS program, including protocols for stream monitoring and the many ways that the data they collect can be used. In Virginia, VASOS volunteers supply twelve percent of the data for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) to use in water quality reports to Congress. VDEQ also uses this data to prioritize stream conservation and restoration efforts.

Veronica led volunteers in an in-depth look at the many types of macroinvertebrates that they might see in Virginia streams. Macroinvertebrates are tiny  adult or larval forms of aquatic insects that live on the bottom of streams. Some are easily affected by pollution and can only be found in healthy streams, while others are more tolerant of pollution. The proportion of these organisms that you find, as well as the overall diversity of species found, can indicate stream health. Volunteers identify over 20 different types of macroinvertebrates, including everything from aquatic worms and leeches to mayfly and dragonfly larvae.

After the presentations, volunteers split into groups. Volunteers taking the certification test began the written portion of the exam, proctored by Ashley Palmer, NVSWCD Conservation Education Specialist. The written portion of the exam includes identifying 22 preserved macroinvertebrate samples and correctly indicating proper sampling protocols and collection methods.

Stream monitors perform the practical field portion of the certification test.

When the written portion of the certification exam was finished, volunteers loaded into their cars and caravanned to Young’s Branch, a local tributary to Bull Run. Veronica and Dan observed volunteers as they sampled the stream for macroinvertebrates, performing the practical portion of the test which looks for volunteers to employ good sampling techniques and practices. Ashley led volunteers not taking the certification test in a traditional stream monitoring workshop and assisted them in collection and macroinvertebrate identification.

At the end of the long day, all 11 Fairfax County volunteer stream monitors passed the certification test! Certified NVSWCD stream monitors are provided with nets, boots, and all of the other equipment needed to monitor their own stream. NVSWCD hopes to set up newly-certified monitors at their stream in time for the fall sampling season.

Certification Workshop 2019 Cohort

How can I get involved?

NVSWCD is actively looking for volunteers to monitor streams throughout Fairfax County! This is a great opportunity to earn service hours for school, scouts, master naturalist programs, and many more. You can volunteer for as many monthly stream monitoring workshops as you like, or volunteer more consistently as a certified monitor. You can learn more about the program by visiting the stream monitoring webpage. Send questions about Fairfax stream monitoring to Ashley.Palmer@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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