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Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE)

Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) is citizen-based water quality assessment developed by DEC. The purpose of WAVE is to enable citizen scientists to collect biological data for assessment of water quality on wadeable streams in New York State.

Become a WAVE Participant

Get Trained

WAVE training is now online! Get trained in the WAVE method today from the comfort of your own home using the link to the Sampling Guide (PDF) and WAVE Training videos (leaves DEC website).

Find a WAVE Team (optional)

Two minds are better than one and two bodies are safer for stream sampling! Contact to learn about teams in your area.

Sign the WAVE Waiver

Everyone who participates in WAVE must sign the WAVE waiver (PDF). Print, sign, and scan this waiver and email it to

Get Equipment

You will need a kick net and a sample vial to collect a WAVE sample. A limited number of equipment sets are available through the WAVE Equipment Loan Program. Equipment applications are due June 1 of each year. Please request equipment when submitting potential sites by using the site selection survey.

Stay in the Loop

All WAVE announcements are sent to our DEC Delivers email list. To sign up, enter your email address in the "DEC Delivers" box below.

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 six "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 four "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 six or more "most wanted" NOR four 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 DEC 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 evaluate patterns throughout New York State.

The WAVE data augment the professional monitoring conducted by the 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 DEC 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 DEC 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. DEC is 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.

More about Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE):

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