Quantifying the Value of Citizen Scientists

With permission from the author, I am reprinting an email I just received. I’m on the EPA’s Volunteer Water Monitoring listserve. This represents one of the first attempts (I’ve seen) to quantify the work performed by Citizen Scientists who volunteer to monitor select NJ rivers. Check out the part describing how the work of two volunteers led to the discovery of a restaurant along the Hudson River that was illegally dumping kitchen waste into the river!

Dear Volunteer Monitoring Community:

In times of budget woes I thought I would share a powerful statistic
with you that may help you justify your program budgets in the future.

The (NJ Department of Environmental Protection) NJDEP volunteer
monitoring program has approximately a $60,000 annual budget. At least
half of the money goes directly to the volunteers to assist with QA
requirements, equipment, staff, lab costs etc. We have a few strings
attached to the money; e.g. the volunteer groups receiving this money
must have their own program goals and data uses…meaning, we do not
want to hear…”Our program goal is to have our data used by the state.”
They need to have their own defined use and take ownership of their
data. We work with the volunteer programs and the Department to fit
their program into the DEP’s monitoring matrix, not the other way
around. Believe me when I say, this is not an easy task but it does
happen. We have to be creative everyday…finding mutual interests.

In the recent 2008 Integrated Report (305b and 303d combined) 85
volunteer monitoring sites were included. The in-kind contribution of
this service is approximately $425,000 annually. This figure does not
include other important volunteer efforts that help the Department. For
example, 2 volunteers found a pipe discharging a substance into the
Hudson River. The Department came out to check on this issue and found
that a restaurant along the River was discharging their kitchen waste
(fat trap to be exact) into the River. The Department fined the owner
and the discharge stopped. This type of involvement is
priceless…Volunteers are the eyes and ears on the river and if they
were not there to see the problem, it would never be dealt with
properly.

We have begun working with other enforcement groups within DEP that also
need our assistance, including the Aquatic Pesticide Permitting Program.
The volunteers will be helping that program by recording the presence or
absence of aquatic plants, algae and lake use.

I hope you find this information useful. If you would like more
information please contact me.

Yours in Conservation,
Danielle