Stream Team program celebrates 30 years of citizen science, stewardship of Texas waterways
Anna Huff | February 10, 2021
The Texas Stream Team, a program of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, is celebrating 30 years of citizen science and environmental stewardship.
More than 11,000 trained citizen scientists have participated in The Meadows Center’s Texas Stream Team program over the years. Launched in 1991, Texas Stream Team has become one of the longest-running and most successful citizen science program in the nation and is still going strong.
“I’m glad that there are other people like me, other citizen scientists, who are willing to test and make sure our waters are safe so that we can catch a problem before they get to be out of hand,” said Jim Jones, a Texas Stream Team citizen scientist who has been collecting water quality data in Northwest Bandera County for nearly eight years.
Administered through a cooperative partnership between the Meadows Center, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Texas Stream Team has grown significantly from its humble beginnings with just a handful of citizen scientists tracking 19 sites in Texas. Today, the program boasts more than 11,000 citizen scientists trained who monitor more than 400 sites across the Lone Star State.
“Texas Stream Team would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to our remarkable citizen scientists, trainers and partners for their support and dedication to our program,” said Aspen Navarro, Meadows Center watershed services program coordinator. “Because of them, Texas Stream Team remains a leader in volunteer water quality monitoring and continues to grow after 30 years.”
A $1,200,000 grant from the TCEQ in late 2020 will allow the program to continue to expand and strengthen its network to other regions into 2023.
Aside from growing its partnerships and volunteer base, Texas Stream Team will continue to support the successful implementation of accepted Watershed Protection Plans across Texas by assisting stakeholders with services such as collecting and analyzing water monitoring data. These services have proven to be invaluable in protection efforts, especially in smaller communities where professional resources to evaluate environmental conditions are lacking.“Texas’ waterways are a natural resource of infinite value, serving as water suppliers; habitat for wildlife; and a vital source of recreation and inspiration,” Navarro said. “Our citizen scientists perform a great service to their communities by providing data and information that support informed decision-making and management on a local level.”
While state agencies in Texas often collect water quality data on a quarterly or annual basis, citizen scientists trained through Texas Stream Team collect data on a monthly basis. With three decades of water quality data available, this large-scale, ongoing data collection can help with identifying trends and environmental changes.
Yet, Texas Stream Team is about more than data collection; there are passionate people behind it. The program is fueled by committed citizen scientists who want to make sure their water is clean and safe for their kids and for future generations to enjoy. It’s an excellent illustration of how citizen science can connect a community to its environment in a personal way and build an ethic of environmental stewardship.
“Water quality monitoring offers local residents and Texas State students an opportunity to take an active role in the protection and understanding of their natural resources,” Rachel Sanborn, a 23-year citizen scientist and active trainer with Texas Stream Team said. “Each monitor's data provides a piece in the larger puzzle of our river's natural cycles and by providing regular data on water quality along the San Marcos River, the community can better understand the impact of regional growth, water usage and can serve as an early warning system for potential water quality problems.”
In addition to recruiting and training volunteers, the program is also committed to providing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education resources for teachers to use in public schools, universities, afterschool programs and other organizations within the community to promote inquiry-based learning about the environment and stewardship.
“Teachers are the heart of the community and it is an honor to provide them with resources and hands-on experiences in the field, so they can replicate some of that experience with their students in the classroom,” said Meagan Lobban, Meadows Center education manager. “Through Texas Stream Team’s education initiatives, we aim to give students of all ages a broader understanding of water quality issues so they are equipped with the skills to analyze and solve complex environmental issues — from floods to drought.”
Outside of the classroom, Texas Stream Team has provided real-life work experience to countless Texas State University students, many of whom have gone on to pursue environmental careers.
"Working with Texas Stream Team staff and citizen scientists has inspired me to dedicate my career to promoting and taking part in accessible, hands-on environmental science,” said Eryl Austin-Bingamon, former Meadows Center student research assistant. “As a student worker, I had the opportunity to see first-hand how passionate members of the public are about protecting our waterways, and how programs like Texas Stream Team empower us to make tangible environmental impacts. In my future career, I hope to continue working alongside citizen scientists to better understand how we can protect our precious waterways and natural resources."
With Texas’ 191,000 miles of waterways, there is no doubt that Texas Stream Team will serve an increasingly important role in fostering a healthy and safe environment through water education, data collection and community action.
“Texas Stream Team has grown significantly since its inception,” Navarro said. “Thirty years from now, we hope program’s data will be comparable to the States water quality data to sound the alarm on a broader scale, fill in research gaps on environmental threats and continue to help the public understand the significance of collecting water quality data.”
To learn more about Texas Stream Team and how to get involved, visit www.Texas StreamTeam.org or email TxStreamTeam@txstate.edu.
About The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University was named following a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation in August 2012. The Meadows Center inspires research, innovation and leadership that ensures clean, abundant water for the environment and all humanity.