School Stream Monitoring Program

FIELD TRIPS take place at streams and rivers across western Montana each fall and spring. Most schools visit the same reach each season to facilitate seasonal and long-term comparisons of chemical, physical, and biological data. Field trips are a great way for students to get out of the classroom, get field science experience, and learn about their watershed from a scientific inquiry perspective. Most schools complement their field experience with a classroom visit both before and after their trip to the creek to introduce concepts and discuss results respectively.


Initial data collected at any one site provides scientists with baseline information about the health of a particular stream. Systematic data collection at the same location over time enables us to form a historical picture of the stream or river’s condition.

In the broader picture, stream monitoring helps students become more familiar with their local waterways. And once acquainted with local streams, they are more apt to notice changes and in watershed health. In this process, students begin to understand how local waterways fit into the larger picture of the watershed. Additionally, increasing awareness and sense-of-place relationships naturally encourages watershed stewardship.


Chemical, Physical, and Biological Parameters based on Montana Watercourse’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring Project. We have recently started using Healthy Water/Healthy People Advanced Surface Water Testing Kits, which measure nutrients, turbidity, minerals and electro-conductivity.


Students measure pH, Dissolved Oxygen (DO), water temperature, and air temperature (both in degrees Celsius). Three readings are taken with a field pH meter. DO is measured using Hach Kits, in which there are a series of chemicals to add to a water sample that indicate the parts per million of dissolved oxygen. The results tells us whether or not oxygen levels are sufficient for the needs of the aquatic life present. Temperature directly affects the DO, and as such, helps samplers determine causes for increased oxygen depletion or absorption. The correlation between oxygen and temperature is an inverse relationship: as temperature rises, the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases; As the water temperature decreases, the water contains more oxygen (except in deep water lakes).


Students record stream cross-section, velocity, substrate, bank condition, and channel shape. Visual observations include adjacent land-use, plants, wildlife, and human activity (human presence, footpaths, trash, impacts on plants) soil type, and any restoration efforts.


Students sample aquatic macro- invertebrates (small, water-living insects without a backbone or with an exoskeleton). Certain insects, such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, require cold, clean and clear water for survival. As such, these bugs (the same bugs on WEN’s new logo) are indicators of healthy streams.


  • Respect where you are, whether you are on public land or private proper

  • Use designated trails

  • Keep field site impacts to a minimum; in other words, Leave No Trace.

  • Our conduct in the field should set a good example, worthy enough for others to follow.

(406) 541-9287

802 E. Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802

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