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 in 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 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

Each station is evaluated for biological, chemical, and physical conditions that are indicative of water quality. They are tested once per month from May through September. Data is collected for: Water Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen, pH, Transparency & Turbidity, Total Nitrogen, Nitrate-Nitrite, Total Phosphorus, Orthophosphate, 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 information:

Why do we track so many different water quality measurements?

Each of the measurements taken through our WQMP tells us something unique and important about the health of our lake and river ecosystems. These tests can also be studied collectively to provide a better understanding of the factors that affect 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 an important tool that we use to help us keep the Pend Oreille Lake and River swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for future generations.

Many of the sites that we test fall within Idaho’s standards set for water quality. However, we have identified significant issues in Boyer Slough because of too much nutrient pollution. Overnutrification can significantly impair aquatic habitat and cascade into numerous dangerous issues, such as algal blooms, weed overgrowth, not enough oxygen, and decreased habitat for native species. When water quality problems are identified, we work with the appropriate agencies to make sure that official clean-up plans (Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs) are developed for the impaired sites.

For more information or if you are interested in becoming a Water Quality Steward, email

What you can do to help!

Individuals can follow these simple tips to help improve water quality. Whether you live along the shoreline or in town, these actions prevent pollution from entering the water through storm drains or runoff.

  • Avoid disturbing the soil that can get in the water. The nutrients in soil that help plants thrive become pollution in water and cause aquatic weeds and algae to grow out of control. Bushes, trees, and other vegetation can serve as a buffer between lawns and the water’s edge because they use the nutrients before they run off into the water. Bonner County code requires a 40-foot setback where buildings are not allowed and retaining native vegetation is recommended.
  • Don’t over-fertilize your lawn and garden. If you use fertilizer, choose a phosphorus-free variety. 
  • Keep leaves and other yard debris away from the shoreline and storm drains.
  • Don’t let oils, chemicals, and other pollution spill into the water or storm drains.
  • Do what you can to divert stormwater so the ground soaks it up before it runs into the lake. 
  • If you have a septic system, make sure it is operating correctly.