Knowing our Waters

Community-based (non-governmental) water monitoring groups have been active in the U.S. since the early 1970s, dealing with issues related to coal mining drainage, agricultural runoff, acid rain, and nonpoint sources of pollution. However, many new efforts have emerged in recent years due to threats posed by extraction industries in the Marcellus Shale. Beginning around 2009, a number of capacity building organizations developed water monitoring protocols and quality assurance plans to assist residents in measuring basic water quality indicators. Training programs also were established to propagate standard practices, and to build up networks of monitoring groups. The many volunteers and nonprofit watershed groups who now participate in these efforts are collecting extensive baseline data to better understand surface water health and ecological conditions.

These programs share a common goal of protecting our waters from the industrial activities of energy extraction, but they have also developed different strategies, with variations in collection methods, measured water quality indicators, geographic coverage, and data management practices to suit the needs of each group’s program. This diversity is important for answering a broad range of questions about the health of our watersheds.

As part of a new FracTracker effort utilizing rich-media storytelling to communicate the impacts of oil and gas extraction, the “Knowing Our Waters” project will focus on the efforts of community-based water monitoring programs in the Marcellus Shale in order to highlight the important work these groups do in bringing attention to the risks that extraction industries pose to our watersheds.

Articles in this Storytelling Series

Community-Based Water Monitoring: An Introduction

In this introductory article, we dig deeper into where community-based water monitoring in the Marcellus Shale originated. Answering questions such as: Who makes up this vibrant field? What do these groups hopes to accomplish? And, How is their work supported?

Fracking in the Coalfields: Water Monitoring in Greene County, PA

This article highlights the work of volunteer water monitoring groups who are concerned about the entanglements of coal mining and shale gas extraction in Southwest Pennsylvania. These groups have collected convincing evidence to support arguments that deteriorating watershed conditions are linked to waste products of the two industries co-mingling in underground mine shafts and in refuse impoundments managed by the coal industry.

Toxic Crossings: Water Sentinels and Waste Flows in the Southern Tier of NY

This article spotlights the New York Water Sentinels, a network of volunteers who monitor along the Southern Tier of New York State. These groups have collected nearly two years of baseline data in their watersheds in the event gas drilling arrives in their communities. In the process, they have also discovered pressing water quality issues such as the practice of sending Pennsylvania’s shale gas related waste to New York landfills.

The Next Generation: Engaging Youth for Lifelong Watershed Protection

This article brings attention to a monitoring program called Creek Connections, an outreach project of Allegheny College. Creek Connections teaches lifelong environmental stewardship through water monitoring. By introducing water monitoring into primary and secondary education, Creek Connections hopes to build long-term capacity for volunteer monitoring efforts and environmental stewardship in the region.

Protecting Coldwater Fisheries: Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited

This article tells the story of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and their Coldwater Conservation Corps (CCC) monitoring program. The CCC has worked for more than five years collecting water quality samples in high quality watersheds in order to protect the state’s valuable coldwater fisheries. FracTracker joined the CCC for a visit to the Sinnemahoning Creek Watershed, in Potter County, PA.

Mapping the Gaps: Spatial and Social Inequalities of Water Monitoring

In this article, guest author Dr. Abby J. Kinchy, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, explains her research team’s investigation into the question of whether or not monitoring programs in Pennsylvania are more concentrated in areas heavily impacted by unconventional oil and gas drilling, as one might expect, or if there are other explanations for why and where volunteer groups and government agencies monitor watersheds.

Looking to the Future

In October 2014, FracTracker launched the Knowing Our Waters (KOW) project with the support of the Colcom Foundation in order to highlight the important role of non-governmental water monitoring programs in the Marcellus Shale. In this final installment of the Knowing Our Waters series, Kirk Jalbert interviewed four leaders in the community to hear their perspectives on how volunteer water monitoring has evolved, what its present challenges are, and where water monitoring in the Marcellus Shale is headed.

Where are Organizations Monitoring?

The below map details the many watersheds in and around the Marcellus Shale where organizations conduct water quality monitoring, in addition to showing the boundaries of the Marcellus Shale formation and drilled wells. Darker shaded watersheds denotes a higher “density” of monitoring in those watersheds.

For full access to map controls, please click the expanding arrows icon at the top right corner of the map. In full-screen mode, click on a HUC-12 watershed to see which organizations are active in that area. Click on the “more information” link to see the details on different monitoring programs. Additional layers can be activated on the top menu bar.

Water Monitoring Resource Guides

Water Monitoring Organizations Listed by State

In addition to the map above, this resource page provides is a list of water monitoring programs organized by state, the mission of these organizations, as well as how, what, and where they monitor watersheds throughout the Marcellus Shale region.

A Guide to Water Monitoring Protocols

This resource page provides additional information on the different kinds of indicators, methods, frequencies, quality assurance, training and data management procedures used by water monitoring organizations.

Related FracTracker Content

Telemetry Monitoring in Indiana County: Evergreen Conservancy

This partnership, between the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency and Evergreen Conservancy, uses real-time data loggers as an early warning system for high quality watersheds in the Allegheny River Basin in and around Indiana County. Data from these loggers has been hosted on the FracTracker website since October, 2013.

Trout Unlimited: Testing Water Quality in the Marcellus Shale

Trout Unlimited (TU) is one of several organizations that are actively monitoring water quality in Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. In February, 2013, FracTracker assisted the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited in mapping their monitoring locations. This map is also one of the inspirations for FracTracker’s “Knowing our Waters” project.

Surveying Unassessed Waters in PA

By default, unassessed streams are given the lowest classification category by the PA Department of Environmental Protection. It is important to prioritize streams according to their water quality, the potential for wild trout populations, and the risk posed by nearby human activities. This article details how the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission works with partners to classify high-quality watersheds for greater protection.


The “Knowing our Waters” storytelling project is funded by a grant from the Colcom Foundation.

A portion of the research conducted for the storytelling articles is based on fieldwork conducted by Kirk Jalbert from 2011-2015, funded in part by the National Science Foundation (Award #13310). Additional information on this project is available at: Promising Data for Public Empowerment.

Data and analysis for mapping the watershed groups, as well as information on their monitoring profiles, was initially collected by Abby J. Kinchy and Kirk Jalbert from 2010-2013 in the National Science Foundation (Award #11262) funded, Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project.

For more information, please contact Kirk Jalbert: