Step 1: Observation & Research

What do you know about your study site and your watershed?

The steps you take in answering this question will lead you toward formulating the questions that you want to answer with respect to water quality (i.e. our testable question) through the monitoring field activity.

Check Your Thinking: What watershed is your study site within?


Observe: Start with your site map (completed in the first module) and see if there are any water features on it. Don’t feel married to your original site map if it doesn’t have what you need i.e. if there are no water features on it or none that can be included. All of these modules are designed to lead to a capstone site study, so feel free to expand and make necessary additions and changes as we go along.

Next, take a second visit to look at your study site and record your own observations. There is no substitute for good, thorough scientific observation! Ask yourself, “What things do I see that might affect or be related to water quality?” Anything you observe will guide you to more information and hopefully, more questions, such as “What watershed is my study site within? What is upstream of or above my study site (what flows into it) and what is below or downstream from it? How deep is the groundwater and what direction is it flowing?”

There are a number of resources you can use to gain as much information as possible about your study site. Finding and using this information is known as “data mining” and presents a great activity for both you and your students within the course of this module’s activity. Google Earth, USGS topographic maps of your area, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology’s on-line Groundwater Information Center and the USGS real-time stream flow website are all excellent resources.

Also, don’t forget there is value in talking with landowners and local government officials, state (Montana Department of Environmental Quality), federal (U.S. Forest Service) or local (health department or conservation districts) about your watershed. All of these resources will give you a lot of information (some of it reliable, and some anecdotal) , and should lead you to additional information that will help you learn more about your site and formulate a good monitoring plan.

In this short video, instructor Matt Vincent discusses how to conduct site research as part of a water monitoring plan using the example of German Gulch Creek west of Butte.

Right-click or ctrl-click this link to download.


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The MSP project is funded by an ESEA, Title II Part B Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant through the Montana Office of Public Instruction. MSP was developed by the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program and faculty from Montana Tech of The University of Montana and Montana State University, with support from other Montana University System Faculty.