Watershed Knowledge Mapping Survey

As a first step to building a database of known watershed monitoring activities in the Marcellus Shale region, we mailed a survey to collect information from county conservation districts and civil society organizations (volunteer groups, watershed associations, advocacy groups, etc.) involved in watershed advocacy and protection activities.


  • We mailed surveys to: 219 civil society organizations and 108 conservation districts in NY and PA (all known to be involved in watershed protection).
  • We received 188 responses from civil society organizations. Of the 188 civil society groups that responded to the survey, 76 were actively monitoring watersheds in their regions, and of those, 24 reported that they were specifically monitoring the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas development.
  • We received 68 responses from conservation districts. Of these 39 were doing water monitoring of some kind, and 9 indicated that their monitoring efforts focused on the anticipated impacts of shale gas development.
  • A list of organizations who participated in this survey and gave permission to publish their names is available here. Monitoring_Organizations.

Key Findings about Civil Society Watershed Monitoring

The survey revealed significant diversity with respect size, composition, funding, monitoring practices, and objectives. These results are discussed in detail in an article published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. We summarize some key findings below.

In this survey, the majority (19 of 24) of organizations that are monitoring for Marcellus Shale water quality impacts have been in existence for a decade or more. They engaged in prior environmental advocacy, conservation, or water quality stewardship efforts. However, our survey revealed that more than half (13 of 24) of these organizations began their water monitoring programs only within in the three years prior to the survey, roughly corresponding to the rise of Marcellus Shale development in their regions. In other words, while most of these organizations have been around for a while, many only started to monitor watersheds in response to Marcellus Shale development.

Civil society water monitoring organizations typically work in networks of two main types: centralized networks, with one main “hub” organization connecting many chapter groups, and decentralized networks, with multiple organizations collaborating or sharing resources but without a central hub.

There are two main orientations among water monitoring groups. Roughly half are advocacy oriented, gathering data in order to improve regulation, support litigation, and change industry behavior. The other half we characterize as knowledge oriented, gathering data in order to protect natural resources through education and awareness.

All 24 groups reported that they aim either to increase public knowledge or contribute to scientific knowledge, and nearly all groups (90%) pursue environmental health objectives such as “protect biodiversity” and “prevent pollution.” However, less than half (42%) of respondents selected one or more of the following objectives: “improve regulation of the natural gas industry,” “change industry behavior,” or “support litigation.”

The frequency with which monitoring groups visit their field sites depends on the reason for monitoring at those locations. For some groups, generating long-term watershed-wide baseline data is the primary objective, whereas other groups focus more specifically on industry activity, and prefer to locate monitoring sites near Marcellus gas well pads.  Groups conducting baseline monitoring typically do so on a monthly basis, but when drilling becomes highly active, some groups (25%) report increasing monitoring frequencies to weekly or bi-weekly.

When asked what they would do if changes in water quality were detected, 75% of the 24 respondents stated they would quickly contact a local conservation district and, depending on their location, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection or the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The amount of time a volunteer dedicates to collecting data varies as well. Groups report their volunteers can spend between 1-5 hours in the field, collecting samples from as few as one to as many as five monitoring sites.

When asked how organizations report their data, more than half (55%) publish their findings on a public website, blog, or other accessible online format. Other common ways of sharing data are through private exchanges with other groups (50%) or by way of password protected databases (20%). 20% of organizations we found to share no data at all. The most common cited reason for this was simply because no pollution had yet to be detected by their volunteers or, in one instance, nobody had expressed interest in their data. Besides distribution by organizations to the public, our survey also revealed that only a third of organizations report having data sharing agreements with municipal, state, or federal agencies, which suggests a good portion of data circulates external to formal regulatory structures.