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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Information and Education Programs - Water Action Volunteers: WAV and Its Partners Make a Difference in Wisconsin

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Kris Stepenuck
Water Action Volunteer Coordinator
101 South Webster
P.O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707

Wisconsin's Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program has continued to grow and flourish since it was last highlighted in Section 319 Success Stories: Volume II. This statewide program, funded by a combination of 319 and University of Wisconsin Extension money, provides educational opportunities, materials, and assistance to individuals and groups interested in caring for streams and rivers. Three major WAV activities are storm drain stenciling, river cleanup, and river and stream monitoring.

Storm drain stenciling

Painting a message next to storm drain inlets has become the water quality hallmark for about 100 Wisconsin communities. In the past 5 years, more than 3,400 volunteers, armed with spray paint and a lot of enthusiasm, have stenciled nearly 9,000 storm drains with the message "Dump No Waste—Drains to River [or Lake or Stream]." The volunteers announce their event with educational door hangers that describe storm water pollution and ways to curb its effects. The stencils and door hangers are also available in Spanish. The success of this effort is the result of the many county, University of Wisconsin-Extension, and Department of Natural Resources local offices that have worked closely with the WAV program to distribute or loan supplies to local volunteers.

WAV conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of storm drain stenciling. The results show that the stenciled messages do leave an impression on people who have seen them, successfully influencing their awareness of basic storm water facts such as storm drain destinations. The degree of influence of a stenciled message on a person's behavior is less apparent. The brief message might be too general; it does not contain specific information to connect specific actions to storm water concerns. The strength of this message is that it can be a catalyst, or an additive to reinforce existing storm water educational programs. Stenciling storm drains might best be used as a positive message for those already using environmentally friendly practices.

River cleanups

Each year, WAV coordinates a statewide river cleanup program. In the past 5 years, more than 11,000 volunteers have collected 2,550 bags of trash plus another 80 tons of garbage from nearly 500 miles of shoreline. The cooperative efforts between WAV and several environmental and outdoor groups and county land conservation departments made the great success of this effort possible.

River and stream monitoring

WAV has also launched a program to allow citizens to monitor the health of their local rivers and streams. The program supports data sharing for educational purposes; provides a network for volunteer groups, individuals, and schools to interact; provides support to civic, conservation, and environmental groups; and helps increase linkages between volunteer monitoring efforts and public resource protection programs. The program was designed so that sampling parameters would be common among sampling groups, easy to measure, and would well represent stream health over time. The monitoring protocols require equipment that is easily obtained and affordable, and the parameters are those safe to monitor.

Five parameters that are currently part of the program are temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, habitat, and biotic community health (assessed using a macroinvertebrate biotic index). A sixth parameter, flow, will be added in the coming months.

At least 10 groups are using WAV protocols, and several groups are considering beginning monitoring programs. The current groups are monitoring between 1 and 25 sites and in most cases have 1 to 20 volunteers. The groups are generally citizen-based, but some schools use WAV protocols to sample during the spring and fall months. Local monitoring groups are working with DNR biologists, interest groups (such as Trout Unlimited), watershed associations, county and municipal offices, and local schools. Most groups hold training sessions during the spring for new monitors, and some offer troubleshooting/support meetings during the sampling season.

Many of the monitoring groups interact with Watershed Education Resource Centers. There are 13 such centers across the state. The centers are designed to make watershed-focused resources available to civic organizations, clubs, schools, and individuals at little or no cost. Monitoring and stenciling equipment, as well as instructional guides, videos, and keys, are available to be borrowed.

The newest addition to the WAV monitoring program is a Web-based database. The database will provide an opportunity for volunteers to view and subsequently analyze data from their stream or other streams in the state that are being monitored by WAV volunteers. Two volunteer groups are testing the database, and it should be ready for use in spring 2002.

In the meantime, look for information about stenciling and monitoring (including access to the database, downloadable fact and data sheets for monitoring, and reporting forms for stenciling or cleanup projects) to appear soon at the WAV web site at http://clean-water.uwex.edu. Exit EPA Disclaimer

Publications and Educational Materials
  • Water Action Volunteers. Make WAVes for Action: Introductory Activity Packet. Hands-on stream and river action projects for Wisconsin. 1998, updated spring 2001.
  • Community Water Education and Action Opportunities for Youth and Adult.Now available online. Exit EPA Disclaimer
  • Storm Drain Stenciling. Impacts on Urban Water Quality (Winter 1999).
  • Volunteer Monitoring Fact Sheet Series (6). 1998, updated 2001.
  • The WAV web site. Exit EPA Disclaimer
  • Monitoring data sheets.
  • Wacky, Wonderful, Water Critters. Booklet.
  • Key to Macroinvertebrate Life in the River.
  • Key to Life in the Pond.
  • Biotic Index poster.


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