How did we map watershed knowledge?

We developed a Geographic Information System, or GIS, in order to better understand the spatial dimensions of surface water quality monitoring in areas of New York and Pennsylvania affected by Marcellus Shale gas development. We produced maps of water quality monitoring by volunteer watershed organizations, academic scientists, and federal, state, and local agencies. The GIS enables us to store, organize, analyze, and visually represent a large quantity of geographically referenced data, such as:

  • locations of water sampling sites
  • chosen indicators of gas drilling-related pollution (e.g. conductivity, hardness, total dissolved solids, etc.)
  • time spent gathering and analyzing water samples
  • budget for water monitoring
  • type and training of personnel
  • type of equipment used
  • frequency of monitoring
  • method of compiling and sharing data

By organizing and analyzing this data and other information (such as census and industry activity data) in a GIS, we can answer the following questions:

  1. Where are public agencies, volunteer groups, and other organizations monitoring the surface water quality impacts of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling?
  2. How do different watersheds compare in terms of the type, frequency, and duration of monitoring that they receive?
  3. If some watersheds are monitored more intensively than others, what explains this difference?

Data sources

Interviews and survey results were the primary means of collecting the data for the GIS, but we also gathered and organized publicly available spatial data from clearinghouses such as The National Atlas, Geospatial One-Stop, Pennsylvania’s Spatial Data Access (PASDA), and New York State’s GIS Data Clearinghouse (NYSGIS).

Organization-specific public spatial datasets that contain monitoring locations and other related information include the U.S. Geological Survey (,,, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Other publicly available spatial data included in the GIS are census data, political boundaries, watershed boundaries, infrastructure data and shale gas development data for Pennsylvania and New York State.

What other methods of analysis did we use?

Multiple research methods were used in this research project. They include a survey, participant observation, and two sets of interviews.

Survey: Beginning in 2011, we conducted a survey to identify and learn about organizations that were monitoring surface water for impacts of Marcellus Shale development. We contacted 219 civil society organizations, identified from public listings of organizations that are involved in watershed protection and monitoring. We received responses from 188 organizations, 76 of which were actively monitoring watersheds. Of those, 24 reported that they were specifically monitoring the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas development. The survey provides insight into their goals, practices, and collaborations. In subsequent research, we identified several additional organizations monitoring the impacts of gas development on water quality, bringing the total number in this study to 35.

Participant observation: We began systematically studying volunteer water monitoring after Abby Kinchy had spent a year (2010) as a volunteer herself. From 2011 to 2014, we observed an array of meetings, trainings, and conferences for monitoring organizations in several regions of New York and Pennsylvania. These included volunteer trainings and outreach events hosted by six different organizations, as well as a variety of conferences in which monitoring organizations were engaged in discussion and exchange of ideas.

Key informant interviews: We interviewed 35 people whose work is related to water quality monitoring and shale gas development, including environmental activists, academic and government scientists, and regulatory officials. These interviews provided understanding of the regulatory, scientific, and political contexts of watershed monitoring efforts.

Citizen scientist interviews: We interviewed organizers and volunteers from 14 of the water monitoring organizations that were identified through the initial survey. These organizations were selected to maximize diversity of organizational structures and geographic locations. Interviews were conducted either in person or by telephone. The aim was gain further insight into their motivations, practices, and perspectives. In total, 31 people were interviewed from those 14 organizations.

The above sources of data, combined with secondary sources, were used to construct a history and overview of the field of citizen water monitoring. The interview transcripts were analyzed using qualitative data analysis software (Atlas.ti). This software enabled us to make an index of concepts, such as the priorities and practices of participatory monitoring efforts, the nature of interactions among organizations in the field, and the influence of academic and regulatory science. In these indexed transcripts, patterns were identified and comparisons were made 1) between organizations and 2) with survey results and field notes.

Interested in learning more about spatial data analysis?

To explore a wide array of publicly available spatial data and maps visit the U.S. Government’s Geospatial Platform, or The National Atlas.

To explore shale gas-specific spatial data and maps visit FracTracker.