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Water Quality Monitoring- Teacher Tips

3.1: Water Quality Monitoring-- A Snap-shot In Time
Teacher Tips

Estimated Time: 40 - 70 minutes


Students will monitor water quality to understand the health of their waterway, its potential for aquatic organisms, and changes over time.


The Boulder Creek Watershed is comprised of Boulder Creek, its hundreds of tributaries, numerous wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs. Select an appropriate water body for monitoring. You can monitor more than one station, or at least put your data on the Boulder Creek web page so other classes can see your results.

Just as we test our blood to monitor our body's health, so must we test the waters to evaluate the health of the land. Our rivers, streams, and wetlands are the arteries that provide essential functions of our ecosystem. Scientists, cities, and citizens use water testing as an indicator of how much life a stream may support, to determine if pollution is effecting the waterway, and how seasonal effects may change water quality. Many of the waterways are linked with groundwater that is often used for drinking water supplies. Unfortunately, it is financially impossible for government agencies to monitor every waterway in the state. It is up to citizens (including this class) to observe their local water, and records developed as part of this assignment will be used to evaluate environmental health.


To contact the Water Resource Educator who can set you up with the materials, call (303) 413-7365 or send an email.

  • RiverWatch Kit or use the BVSD Pond Study Kit
  • Sample bottles
  • Sample labels
  • Journals
  • Camera


After explaining basic concepts (such as nutrients, hydrology, etc.) have students write down in their journals three questions that they want answered as part of the field trip.

Students can analyze the water either in the field or back at school. Some of the measurements (pH, temperature, DO, should be completed in the field). In addition to collecting water samples, make sure they record observations of plant life, animals, water level, weather, and so on.

The water quality sampling procedures described in this activity are based on the RiverWatch Program developed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. If you are a participating RiverWatch school your program contact will be familiar with the sampling activities and can help with initial activities.

If you are unfamiliar with the procedures it is recommended you pre-lab some of the tests. All of the procedures are very basic, it just takes a little time to get comfortable.

Students work in groups to measure various water quality parameters. This is an inquiry based activity, there are no pre-determined answers. Students must work within their class community to obtain relevant information and develop a description of waterway health

Water quality sampling can take anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour (this does not include the amount of time necessary to get to and from your site). In order to minimize the time sampling and analyzing the samples it is suggested that the class be broken up into three groups (A, B, C).

The following parameters will be evaluated:

  • pH (Group A) Alkalinity (Group C)
  • Temperature (Group A) Hardness (Group C)
  • Dissolved Oxygen (Group B)

Additionally, depending on available materials it may be possible to monitor for additional parameters.

Getting Started

Divide the class into three groups and assign them their activities. Each group should record their data on the provided data sheets. Other observations, drawings, photographs, etc. should be recorded in their journals. The data sheets can be copied by students at a later date into their journals.

The remainder of this activity is outlined in the RiverWatch program guide or in the pond study kit. (Contact the Water Resource Educator.)

Water Quality Issues

Water quality varies seasonally and is influenced by human activities throughout its watershed.

NOx and sulfates are transported by "the Brown Cloud" and deposited as precipitation in the upper alpine reaches of the watershed. These various forms of nitrogen can influence the nutrient cycle and pH of the lakes. The high mountain lakes have little buffering capacity because of the predominately granitic bedrock. As of yet, acidification of the streams has not effected any of the observed lakes.

U.S. NOx Emmissions
(1992, 23.2 Million Tons)

U.S. SO2Emmissions
(1992, 23.7 Million Tons)

On the Web

Stream flow information for creeks in the Boulder area can be accessed through BASIN's Data Map .

Additional Information

Water quality monitoring is often termed a "snapshot" evaluation of the waterway's health, meaning that it can only provide information relevant to conditions measured at the time of sampling. Therefore, it is advisable to monitor the waterway over several intervals, and to compile previous data for future comparisons. Additionally, cooperation with other schools, and government agencies can often expand the data.

Another means of evaluating the waterway's health is to look at the health, type, and number of organisms living in the waterway. Macroinvertebrates and phytoplankton are two classes of organisms that are easily to collect, and provide long-term indications of the waterways health. See activities 3.2 (Plankton Lab) and 3.4 (Macroinvertebrate Lab) for more information.

Students can be required to compile a final report on the waterway, and thus, detailed accounts of all activities in their journal will be necessary for documentation.

People to Contact 

Water Resource Educator 413-7365

Colorado Division of Wildlife, River Watch Coordinator 291-7388

BVSD Science Coordinator 447-5106

Science Standards 

#4.3 Students know major sources of water, its uses and importance, and its cyclic patterns of movement through the environment.

#5 Students know ways that science, technology, and human activity have an impact on the world and its resources.

#7 Students know how to appropriately select, and safely and effectively use tools (including laboratory materials, equipment and electronic resources) to conduct scientific investigations.

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Last Page Update - Tuesday December 27, 2005