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Water Quality Monitoring

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JMSWCD Water Quality Monitoring

The John Marshall Soil & Water Conservation District conducts regular monitoring of waterbodies in Fauquier County, focusing on current TMDL streams.  Bacterial and chemical monitoring is done on a monthly basis and biological monitoring is done on quarterly.  If you are interested in helping out with monitoring, please see our Volunteer Information page.  Apart from the regular monitoring of streams, the District also does water monitoring programs for local schools and other organizations (see Educational Programs for more information).  The District does not do testing for wells, taps, or other private drinking water supplies.  For information on how to test your drinking water, see our Frequently Asked Questions.

In 2017, the District, along with Piedmont Environmental Council and Friends of the Rappahannock held a water monitoring workshop for local residents.


Water Monitoring Data

The District has a GIS-based Water Monitoring Application available for the public to view historical data for macroinvertebrates (data from 2001-present) and E. coli (data from 2005-present).


Macroinvertebrate monitoring data collected by the District is uploaded to the Virginia Save Our Streams Database.

If you have questions about water quality monitoring and/or monitoring data, please email Michael Trop or call 540-316-6639.


Biological MonitoringBiological Monitoring

Biological monitoring involves surveys of living organisms. Surveying for macroinvertebrates is a common practice that involves a minimum amount of equipment and supplies.

Stream Monitoring

Macroinvertebrates are animals without backbones that are large enough to be seen without microscopes.  Examples include:

  • Aquatic worms
  • Crayfish
  • Mayflies
  • Dragonflies

Macroinvertebrates vary in their tolerance to pollution, and their populations can be indicative of overall water quality.  The District has all the equipment necessary to monitor macroinvertebrates.  Monitoring usually involves transporting students to a local pond or stream, but if this is not possible, the Leaf Pack project is a fantastic classroom alternative.

Leaf Pack Bag

Leaf Pack Project

This macroinvertebrate sampling method involves placing mesh bags containing leaves into streams or ponds.  Macroinvertebrates will inhabit the mesh bags to feed on the leaves or other macroinvertebrates.  This sampling method is typically only used for educational purposes when students are unable to make visits to a stream.  Students fill the bags in the classroom and the bags are then taken to a local water body. After 3-4 weeks, the bags are collected and brought to the classroom where students will sort and identify the macroinvertebrates.  The District has all the equipment needed for a leaf pack project, and can help locate ponds and streams for bag placement.

All methods of macroinvertebrate monitoring can be carried out any time of year, in fact, populations of many macroinvertebrates can be quite high in winter.  Macroinvertebrate studies can be linked to many different science related SOLs and almost any grade level (see Educational Programs for more information).


Chemical MonitoringChemical Monitoring

There are literally hundreds of chemicals and numerous methods that can be used for testing water quality, but the District focuses on those that are typically the most significant in Fauquier County.

Nitrogen & Phosphorus

Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two nutrients most frequently monitored for in streams and ponds in rural areas of Virginia. Nitrogen and phosphorus are components of fertilizer, animal manure, and wastewater from treatment plants.  Too much nitrogen and phosphorus can lead to excessive plant growth in aquatic ecosystems, and these nutrients play a major role in the water quality problems of the Chesapeake Bay.

Dissolved Oxygen

Aquatic organisms such as fish and macroinvertebrates need oxygen to survive, so testing for dissolved oxygen is common.  Time of year, plant growth, and water movement all have an effect on oxygen levels.

Temperature & pH

These two physical parameters are also common tests that are easy to perform and give a great deal of information about the characteristics of the stream or pond.  Temperature can be affected by time of season, illicit discharges, and stream canopy cover.  The pH of a stream measures how acidic or basic the water is.  Geology, acidic discharges, acid rain, and photosynthesis can affect the pH of streams.

Most water testing procedures do involve glass components and chemical products, so adult supervision and basic safety requirements are mandatory.  The John Marshall SWCD has a limited supply of chemical testing kits available for demonstrations, field days, or field trips.


EcoliE. coli Monitoring

E. coli is a type of bacteria associated with feces of warm blooded animals.  Most of the streams listed as impaired (polluted) in the county made the list because of E. coli contamination.  Sources of E. coli include farm animals, wildlife, pets, and malfunctioning septic systems.  The District uses the Coliscan Easygel method to monitor bacteria.  In this method, water is mixed with a media and bacteria colonies are grown in Petri dishes.  The District has a small supply of kits for demonstration purposes.  For schools, private citizens, or other groups desiring to do large scale testing, E. coli test kits that contains materials for 10 tests costs about $40.