Letter: No ‘slippery numbers’ in water quality data

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I read with interest Daniel Walton’s “Streaming Data” piece regarding MountainTrue’s State of the French Broad River Watershed 2018 report [Aug. 22, Xpress]. This document leans heavily on data generated by the Environmental Quality Institute, of which I am the executive director. Since we at EQI weren’t contacted for Walton’s article, I’d like to clarify a few points.

Since 1990, EQI has operated volunteer chemical and biological monitoring programs in Western North Carolina. We were not involved in the development of MountainTrue’s report, but our data are publicly available and can be used by anyone for any purpose. We don’t feel that EQI’s programs result in “slippery numbers” though, as implied in the article. Jen Ditzler was quoted as saying, “The report would be easier to take seriously if ‘real’ data, i.e., actual numbers that were produced by an accredited laboratory, were used …”

EQI holds voluntary lab certification with the state of North Carolina: We follow standard methods and have strict, well-documented quality assurance protocols overseen by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. Our data is not skewed based on the collector or emotion. EQI’s mission is to collect scientific data that informs environmental understanding and decision-making. Objectivity is the entire reason for our existence. Beyond EQI, community science itself is being increasingly accepted by entities such as N.C. DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with great emphasis placed on strong quality control and standardized methods.

Well-trained volunteers collect water samples monthly from approximately 160 fixed locations throughout 12 WNC counties for our chemical monitoring program, the Volunteer Water Information Network. These samples are professionally tested in our certified lab for eight analyses, including major ecological health indicators like nutrients and sediment. Our biological monitoring program, or Stream Monitoring Information Exchange, has operated since 2004, whereby steadfast and knowledgeable volunteers sample stream invertebrates each spring and fall. The presence or absence and diversity of these little critters are common measures of stream water quality. Just ask fishing enthusiasts if the bugs are related to the quality and numbers of the fish they catch! To inquire, “Is this stream clean?” is a valid endeavor, and together we can take legitimate steps to answer it.

Learn more, volunteer or donate by contacting us at eqi@eqilab.org. Check out EQI’s mapped monitoring results online at maps.eqilab.org.

— Ann Marie Traylor
Executive Director
Environmental Quality Institute
Black Mountain

Editor’s response: We appreciate our readers’ feedback. In the article in question, Xpress did not contact the Environmental Quality Institute for comments since Ditzler’s reported critique of the findings primarily centered on MountainTrue’s interpretation of the data.

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