How to Create a Water Quality Monitoring Plan

We know what water is. We know what water quality is. Now all we have to do is go out and monitor water quality, right? Wrong. It’s not quite that easy. While we will be putting everything we’ve just learned together to develop a plan to investigate water quality near our school or home, we still need to learn how to develop a good plan.

At this point in the MSP, approaching an investigation to answer a question through sound, scientific process (i.e. “the scientific method”) should not be anything new. Just as we took a number of carefully calculated, scientific steps to find out what was living in our soils in the last module, we will need to approach our water quality monitoring assessment much the same.

Taking the proper steps to set up a sound water quality monitoring plan is an excellent way for students to learn about their watershed, how their home or school fits into it, and how scientists approach their work. As we work toward our capstone site study, the steps we take in investigating our water quality are very important. The data we obtain for our suite of parameters (pH, DO, turbidity and temperature) are only as good as the method or plan we use to collect it. Recognizing the limitations of field methods and additional factors that may affect our data will be key steps in arriving at an accurate conclusion to our testable question and developing any plans for further action and reporting.

When using the World Water Monitoring Day test kits, there are some strengths and weaknesses in the quality of the data collected. On the positive side, the kits are easy to use, provide quick results and are comparable to the thousands of other study sites using them.

The downside is that the data collected is limited in scope and accuracy, and thus limits what conclusions can be drawn from the data. This limitation has a positive side too: since you know the parameters for which you will be collecting data, it will guide your inquiry to the general testable question, as well as the method for testing it: Based on what I know about the pH, DO, temperature and turbidity of my site, is the water of a good enough quality to support aquatic life? It also opens the door for a host of additional tests and perhaps additional  monitoring steps you could conduct at your site in the future, perhaps during subsequent modules. This is only the beginning!

Click here to view Resources from the World Water Monitoring Challenge.

In this short, video, instructor Matt Vincent discusses the basics of developing a water monitoring plan using the example of German Gulch Creek west of Butte.

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


For your perusal and assistance, the Montana Watercourse has an extremely useful guide to help you with your monitoring plan and to answer a wide variety of questions that might come up:

Click here to view or download The Volunteer Water Monitoring Guidebook (pdf format).


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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.