Monitoring Our Local Waterways

One of our core programs, our Water Quality Monitoring Program (WQMP) is a consistent long-term monitoring effort to measure water quality across Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River.

This effort is driven by the power of citizen science! Each year, our dedicated volunteers complete the required citizen scientist training in order to be able to properly collect water quality data and samples. Since 2012, this citizen science initiative has tracked changes to water quality conditions at designated sites across our lake and river, gathering critical water quality information from May through September each year.

​By continually monitoring year after year, this critical program is building a solid understanding of local waterways by documenting current water quality conditions and creating a reference point for any future changes that may occur.

The program’s goals are to inform the public and provide high-quality scientific data that regulatory agencies can use when making water quality-based decisions for our local waterways.

Water Quality – Biological, Chemical & Physical Tests

To date, our team and our crew of dedicated citizen scientists have collected over 900 water quality measurements each year from the program’s 13 monitoring stations on Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River.

Each station is evaluated for 11 different biological, chemical, and physical tests once per month from May through September. Data is collected for the following parameters: Water Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen, pH, Transparency & Turbidity, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, Nitrate-Nitrite, Total Phosphorus, Orthophosphate, Total Organic Carbon, Total Coliform Bacteria, and E. coli.

Taking these measurements on a regular basis helps us understand local waterways and the overall health of our lake and river systems. Use the interactive map below to view specific station data:

Why do we track so many different water quality measurements?

Each of the 11 measurements taken through our WQMP tells us something unique and important about the health of our lake and river ecosystems. These 11 tests can also be studied collectively to provide a better understanding of the factors that may affect regional water quality both seasonally and annually.

​Understanding water quality and the factors affecting it helps us define what “normal” is for a particular area of our lake or river. Once we know what is normal, we can identify any potential threats to water quality and help ensure that our waters remain drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for years to come!

How has our water quality monitoring data been used?

The types of tests performed and methods we use are sanctioned by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) through our Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). This enables federal and state agencies, such as IDEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to utilize our data for certain management decisions.

Our data is used to determine Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) plans for impaired sites. TMDL is a regulatory term in the U.S. Clean Water Act that describes a plan for restoring impaired waters and identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

What does the data tell us?

Our massive collection of data helps us make informed decisions about what is happening in our aquatic ecosystems and determine the state of our lake. The WQMP is one of the most important tools that we use to help us achieve our mission of keeping the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for future generations.

The majority of the sites that we test are healthy and fall within the federal standards set for drinking water. However, we have identified significant issues in Morton Slough, Boyer Slough, and near the Sandpoint Wasterwater Outfall Station (SWWOF). These are due to overnutrification (too many dissolved nutrients) of phosphorous and nitrogen. Overnutrification can significantly impair aquatic habitat and cascade into numerous dangerous issues, such as algal blooms, anoxic conditions, and decreased habitat for native species. These issues are identified by our program and we work with the appropriate agencies to make sure that impaired sites are cleaned up and appropriate TMDLs are created.