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Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE)

Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) is citizen-based water quality assessment developed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The purpose of WAVE is to enable citizen scientists to collect biological data for assessment of water quality on wadeable streams in NY State.

Samples Collected by Citizen Scientists

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WAVE citizen scientists collect benthic macroinvertebrates from wadeable streams. Sampling can be conducted any time between July 1 and September 30. Participants collect riffle-dwelling benthic macroinvertebrates and preserve one or two example specimens of each macroinvertebrate type in a voucher collection.

Samples are identified and Interpreted by the WAVE Coordinator

The WAVE coordinator identifies all macroinvertebrates in the WAVE samples to the level of family and uses these data to calculate a water quality assessment:

Assessment Data
Sample Contents Water Quality Assessment Assessment Description
More than 6 "MOST wanted"
No Known Impact The stream is healthy in that there is no observed impact to the aquatic life. This assessment is high quality and may be used for state and federal reporting purposes.
More than 4 "LEAST wanted"
Possibly Impaired This assessment serves as a red flag for sites that may deserve
further investigation at the professional level. So far, we've been able to respond to every site that was flagged as possibly impaired.
Other No Conclusion

Sometimes a sample does not meet either of these criteria: it doesn't have 6 or more "most wanted" NOR 4 or more "least wanted". If the sampling was done properly, then the site is probably slightly impacted but not impaired. This can also happen, however, when sampling is performed incorrectly which is why the NYSDEC records this assessment as "No Conclusion."

WAVE Data Are Valuable

Wave volunteers looking at samples

Regular stream monitoring helps detect changes in water quality over time. Monitoring keeps track of existing stream conditions, detects threats to streams before they become a problem, and helps to evaluate patterns throughout New York State.

The WAVE data augment the professional monitoring conducted by the NYS DEC Stream Biomonitoring Unit. WAVE data in the No Known Impact category may be used for many of the same purposes as the professional assessments. WAVE data in the Possibly Impaired category serve as a red flag for sites that may deserve further investigation at the professional level.

Specifically, WAVE data are used by NYSDEC for the following purposes:

  • State and Federal Reporting - No Known Impact sites are included in the NYS Waterbody Inventory and EPA's Clean Water Act Section 305(b) reporting.
  • Monitoring Reports - WAVE data are included in the Trend Monitoring and basin reports
  • Rotating Integrated Basin Studies (RIBS) - WAVE data are considered when sites are selected for DEC's monitoring program
  • Non-point Source Discharges Issues - WAVE data provide basic background information on water quality conditions for NYSDEC staff working on non-point discharge sources.

In addition, county, municipal, and not-for-profit organizations may use WAVE data to support local stream restoration and/or protection efforts. We are very interested in tracking these applications of the WAVE data. If you are involved or are aware of a use of the WAVE data, please contact WAVE Coordinator, Alene Onion, at:

Become a WAVE Participant

For information on how to become a WAVE participant see How To Join WAVE or contact the WAVE Coordinator, Alene Onion, at:

More about Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE):

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