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Trends, challenges, and responses of a 20-year, volunteer water monitoring program in Alabama

William G Deutsch, Alabama Water Watch, Auburn University Water Resources Center
Sergio S Ruiz-Córdova, Alabama Water Watch, Auburn University Water Resources Center


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Volunteer water monitoring programs are one of the most popular forms of citizen science, but many face governmental funding cuts and other threats to their continuation. Alabama Water Watch (AWW) is such a program that for more than 20 years has had positive influences on ecosystems and society through environmental education, waterbody protection and restoration, and promotion of improved water policy. A temporal analysis of 15 program indicators revealed 4 phases of AWW that followed general patterns of organizational development. These included periods of rapid growth, cresting, moderate decline, and stabilization at a lower level of activity. Five factors influenced these trends: saturation of potential groups, loss of monitors from aging, disillusionment and monitor fatigue, societal change, and loss of government funding. These factors were evaluated and responses to each are described. Keys to long-term viability of AWW include consistent attention to monitors, data credibility, a user-friendly online database, volunteer trainers, a nongovernmental association, and an institutional transition resulting in funding and staff continuity.

Key words

citizen science; community-based monitoring; program sustainability; public participation in scientific research; volunteer water monitoring

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087