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River and Stream Monitoring

  • river water sample
    RIDEM staff collecting river water sample
  • river water sample
    RIDEM staff test water at a stream monitoring location
  • collected insects
    RIDEM staff measure river width and depth to calculate stream flow
  • collected insects
    RIDEM staff collect aquatic insects using a net

Monitoring in Rhode Island rivers and streams is targeted to collect data on water quality, streamflow and certain biological communities including fish and macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects) as resources allow. The sampling designs and protocols vary with the category of river or stream: wadeable streams (shallow) and non-wadeable rivers (deep).

Wadeable Stream Monitoring

DEM monitoring in Rhode Island’s wadeable rivers and streams has two components: (1) an Ambient River Monitoring (ARM) program involving water chemistry, pathogens, and field measurements; and (2) a Biological Monitoring Program involving macroinvertebrate sampling and habitat surveys. DEM's strategy for monitoring wadeable rivers and streams includes a sampling design to visit freshwater streams around the state over a 4-5 year rotating basin cycle. Consistent with the rotating basin approach, these monitoring activities are performed at stations selected within one or more targeted watersheds. Over 200 river monitoring stations have been established throughout the state. Up to 60 stations are targeted in a given year with the sampling occurring at each station tailored to both its situation and management information needs. Biological sampling occurs when conditions are suitable to collect specimens. Additional parameters, including metals, are sampled selectively based on need. The data generated allows DEM to assess water quality in rivers and streams, identify pollution problems and degraded aquatic habitat, and plan and track water quality management and restoration efforts.

From 2004-2020, three sampling rotation cycles have occurred covering various watersheds once every 4-5 years:

  • 2015-present
  • 2011-2014 rotation
  • 2004-2009 rotation

Large River Monitoring

The RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) partners with the US Geological Survey (USGS) to monitor five stations on Rhode Island’s largest three rivers: the Blackstone, Pawtuxet, and Pawcatuck. This program over a dozen water quality parameters including bacteria, and metals. Some measurements are taken on a monthly basis, such as bacteria and nutrients, while others are taken once every two to three months, such as metals. US Geological Survey (USGS) also operates and maintains stream gages under contracts with the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and other entities. The Rhode Island Stream Gage Network is comprised of 35 gages and provides continuous river and stream flow data from Rhode Island’s largest rivers as well as the brooks and streams with some flow records dating back to 1909.

Additional River and Stream Monitoring

Additional monitoring throughout the state is conducted by many partners and entities on both large rivers as well as smaller rivers and streams. Rhode Island Environmental Monitoring Collaborative (RIEMC) provides an overview of each program on their website. The RIEMC was established by state law to coordinate environmental monitoring strategies among a broad range of partners as well as identify monitoring priorities. The RIEMC brings together stakeholdersfrom executive state agencies, university-based programs, non-gonvernmental organizations, and others to enhance coordination and collaboration.