Volunteer Program Helps Measure Water Quality

If Iowans want to achieve measurably cleaner water, we must insist upon consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress.  This takes the dedication of numerous individuals and both state and volunteer-led initiatives. One such initiative is the Polk County Water Monitoring Snapshot. The Snapshot, held twice a year in May and October, takes a comprehensive sampling of water sources in the state’s largest urban area, and provides invaluable data for environmental groups and water agencies. The sponsor-funded, volunteer-driven event measures water quality in rivers and streams throughout Polk County ranging from  the Raccoon River to small unnamed creeks.


This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, May 6, from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.  All are welcome to volunteer. Training is provided the morning of the event, and new volunteers work in teams with experienced volunteers, so no previous training is needed. To volunteer, contact Water Program Director Susan Heathcote at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.

The initiative was started by the Iowa Environmental Council, Des Moines Water Works and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources 12 years ago. With the help of the Izaak Walton and the Raccoon River Watershed Association, the Snapshot has grown into one of the largest and most consistently occurring water quality testing programs in the state.

“Before the Snapshot, there was very little information on the quality of any water source in the Des Moines area,” Heathcote said. “We couldn’t answer questions like ‘how does our water compare to other water sources,’ and, ‘how has the quality changed over time?’ Now we can compare our data with previous years and with that of other counties across the state and nation.”jll

The Snapshot usually has 30 to 40 volunteers operating in groups of two to three people that divide and conquer to take samples at over 70 sites across Polk County. The event drew its inspiration from a similar program in Scott County. Since then, several other watersheds, counties and municipalities across Iowa have created snapshot programs of their own, but the Scott and Polk County programs remain the most consistent and thorough.

Questions about the Snapshot? Contact Susan Heathcote for more information or to volunteer at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.


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