Swim, Splash, Smile. Citizen Science and Water Quality Come Together for the WSR 50th Anniversary

We are all connected by rivers. Rivers sustain our communities by providing opportunities for recreation, lovely scenery, and places to explore. But our nation’s rivers also fill a more crucial function: supplying drinking water and food to many families across the country.

Wild and scenic rivers are rivers that have been specially designated for possessing outstanding values at a regional or national scale. About 1 in 10 people’s drinking water supply is connected to a wild and scenic river. Despite being so important, almost 60% of designated rivers are impaired in some way, and many park staff do not have the capacity to monitor and improve impairments on their own. Luckily, local communities are invested in their river’s health and citizen science programs have expanded the Park Service’s ability to monitor rivers and make management decisions.

Swim Splash Smile is an initiative through the National Park Service Water Resources Division that supports citizen science water quality monitoring projects on wild and scenic rivers. Swim Splash Smile was funded this year by the National Park Foundation in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

children use shovel and buckets to collect water samples along a roaring river.
Students from Whitefish High School in Montana are collecting macroinvertebrate samples from the Flathead River. Among the many water quality analyses students will make during their weekends of sampling, they will identify the different indicator species to assess general water quality.

Photo courtesy of Eric Sawtelle

Eight citizen science projects were selected from parks and partnerships on wild and scenic rivers across the nation. Check out their websites to learn more about their programs!

  1. Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and the National Park Service are launching a new citizen science program that studies the effects of rain events on runoff and water quality on the Obed Wild and Scenic River (TN).

  2. The Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Watershed is installing monitoring equipment to record temperature and conductivity data on the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River (CT). Temperature data will be used to track habitat conditions while conductivity data will help establish a watershed baseline for chloride and monitor changes in watershed chloride from sources such as road salt.

  3. The Farmington River Watershed Association is purchasing equipment to continue their long-term stream temperature monitoring program on the Farmington Wild and Scenic River (CT).

  4. The White Clay Watershed Association is recruiting volunteers from the community to care for sensors that have been installed in the White Clay Wild and Scenic River watershed (DE & PA) and/or to get trained to monitor for variations in water chemistry including nutrients and pathogens.

  5. The Whitefish High School FREEFLOW club, which studies water quality issues on the Flathead Wild and Scenic River (MT), has gotten equipment that will allow students to collect their own water quality data. Students will use their data to create maps and storymaps on ArcGIS and share them with NPS staff at Glacier National Park.

  6. The St. Croix River Association will be expanding their monitoring of toxic algal blooms on the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (WI & MN). If there is any evidence of toxic algae in identified blooms, park staff can respond by sending out health risk notifications to inform the public of recreation hazards.

  7. The SPLASH Steamboat Floating Classroom is piloting their water quality program on the Delaware River (NJ & PA) by developing new monitoring protocols that meet rigorous water quality standards and utilizes local citizen sciences for the collection and interpretation of the accumulated data. This data will be incorporated into their environmental education curriculum and be shared with interested organizations and regulatory agencies.

  8. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is using citizen scientists to study the effects of a dam removal on freshwater mussel communities in the Delaware River (NJ & PA).

To learn more about wild and scenic rivers and NPS wild and scenic rivers, visit and Water Quality Story Map. And check out River Network and the National Volunteer Monitoring Program to find active monitoring groups near you.

Last updated: October 18, 2018