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Water Quality Monitoring

Background & Goals 

The Cold River Local Advisory Committee (LAC) sampling team initiated its innovative watershed-wide characterization project in 2002.  The project focuses on assessing surface water quality and flow by developing a comprehensive long-term database of representative physical, chemical and biological measurements at 29 key sites in Acworth, Alstead, Langdon, Lempster and Walpole.   

The project addresses water resource management priorities identified in several watershed resident surveys as well as action plans prepared by a number of groups including the Town ofAlstead, the CT River Joint Commissions and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Those documents collectively confirm that the Cold River Basin is a significant natural, cultural, scenic, and scientific resource and that good water quality is critical for the health of the watershed and downstream areas. 

To protect and effectively manage water resources in the Cold River Basin, a routine water quality monitoring program at a sufficient number of representative local sites is required.  Such a program has not been implemented by local, state or federal officials due to budget limitations.  The LAC has established its all-volunteer monitoring program to fill this gap.  Our specific objectives are to:    

S        Better understand the watershed we live in;

S        Identify and evaluate new or recurring sources of pollution;

S        Encourage discussions in our communities about water resources; and

S        Provide an objective and credible scientific basis for local, state and federal planning and law enforcement decisions. 

Data Quality & Uses 

Despite the sampling team’s total reliance on volunteers and donations, samples are collected with speed, consistency and repeatability using state-of-the-art equipment.  We strive to produce accurate data that can be used to effectively address the goals and objectives outlined above.

We are an active participant in the state’s Volunteer River Assessment Program (VRAP), which requires adherence to strict quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) measures.  In 2006, over 425 samples/measurements were collected by our volunteers – of which 100% met state and federal QA/QC standards.  Technical assistance is donated to our project by VRAP staff and others as needed.  For more information about the VRAP program, visit their web site at:

The data produced by our team have practical value for a wide variety of users.  State officials use our data to assess the condition of local surface waters every two years, and identify “impaired” areas requiring further study and/or restoration.  This has been particularly important in evaluating the impacts of the enormous flood that devastated the lower watershed in October 2005.  Local planning and conservation officials benefit from our data by better understanding the sources of water quality problems, and by having a baseline of information from which future impacts of growth can be assessed.   The water quality summary for 2005 and the water quality summary for 2006  indicate the significance of the data.

With our database in hand, we have also been able to participate in a wide variety of public outreach functions including:

S        Water quality information source and referral service for local residents, recreational visitors, waterfront land owners, etc.;

S        Technical assistance and presentations for local boards and schools;

S        Watershed information presentations at local fairs/events, the Cold River Duck Race, the state watershed conference, etc.;

S        Assessments of project progress for inclusion with annual town reports; and

S        Preparation of annual water quality summaries for the general public.

Sampling Schedule:  Our sampling schedule has evolved over time and is updated each year to reflect current data needs as well as available human and financial resources. 

Early in the project, we sampled every month (rain, snow or shine!) for a more limited set of parameters and at fewer sites, using equipment borrowed from the state.  Based on the knowledge gained from those early efforts, we decided to purchase our own equipment to allow for increased numbers of test parameters and sampling sites.  In 2005-06, we opted to restrict the sampling mostly to the summer months while adding several more sites and parameters.  At the same time, we streamlined our field protocols to best fit the technical recommendations of the state’s Consolidated Assessment Listing Methodology (CALM).  You can learn more about CALM at:

Looking ahead, we intend to continue to sample each year on a monthly basis in July, August and September.  Non-routine samples will continue to be collected at any time of the year as needed.  Volunteers of all ages and skill levels are welcomed and encouraged to attend.  Each routine sampling event usually takes an entire day, but volunteers can arrange to participate or watch for portions of those days as well.  All of the necessary training and equipment is provided.  To reduce equipment maintenance needs and encourage participation, most sampling events are scheduled for sunny summer days. 

The sampling events are great fun, offering you a chance to explore the streams and ponds of the Cold River Basin “up close and personal.”  The events are also good opportunities to discuss your water resource questions and concerns with neighbors and professionals.  To find out how you can get involved with the sampling project and make a difference in your community, contact an LAC representative today!

Sampling Results:  Each year, VRAP scientists compile and analyze our data and publish the results in a comprehensive monitoring report.  The reports and a list of our sampling sites may be downloaded from the Department of Environmental Services (DES) web site at:

As resources allow, the LAC summarizes those reports in simple two-page fact sheets for general distribution.  The 2005 and 2006 fact sheets may be downloaded here.  The sheets also provide relevant flow and/or wildlife habitat data collected by the LAC, DES, NH Fish & Game Department and others.

Funding & Donations:  Our project is largely self-funded and heavily dependent on donations.  Laboratory fees and equipment maintenance costs run from hundreds to thousands of dollars every year.  Please consider making a donation towards the sampling project today!  Contact information is provided under “About the LAC.”

Acknowledgements:  The LAC is very grateful for the financial and technical support we have received on this project in the past from groups such as:

S        Acworth Conservation Commission

S        Alstead Conservation Commission

S        Alstead Supplemental Environmental Project

S        Americorps Program

S        Cheshire County Conservation District

S        CT River Joint Commissions

S        CT River Watershed Council

S        Fall Mountain Regional School District

S        Lempster Conservation Commission

S        National Park Service Rivers & Trails Program

S        New England Grassroots Environmental Fund

S        NH Department of Environmental Services

S        NH Fish & Game Department

S        NH Rivers Council

S        Southwest Regional Planning Commission

S        Unity Conservation Commission

S        University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

S        Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission

S        Walpole Conservation Commission

These groups and many others including anonymous private donors and all of our local volunteers deserve a big “thanks!” for their valuable efforts to protect and understand the resources of the Cold River Basin.

Our Lake Partners:  Lake associations on Crescent Lake in Lempster/Unity/Acworth and Lake Warren in Alstead provide additional opportunities to monitor water quality in the Cold River Basin.  Their all-volunteer sampling programs are conducted primarily in the summers and focus on not only the lakes but their inlets and outlets as well.  In addition to water quality, the groups monitor for invasive weeds that can quickly damage the lakes.  The associations are active participants in the state’s Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP) and all sampling conforms to the VLAP QA/QC protocols.

The lake sampling data nicely complement the stream and pond information collected by the LAC, resulting in a more complete picture of the health of our watershed.  In addition, waterfront landowners and town officials benefit directly from knowing how current land and lake use practices impact water quality.  To learn more about the lake sampling programs or download their comprehensive annual water quality reports, visit the VLAP web site at

To participate in the lake sampling programs or learn more about the health of the lakes, contact the associations at 863-8838 (Crescent Lake) or 835-2825 (Lake Warren).