The Colorado River Watch Network (CRWN) supports community-based environmental stewardship by providing volunteers with the information, resources, and training necessary to monitor and protect the waterways of the lower Colorado River watershed.
CRWN is the first and largest regional volunteer network of water quality monitors in Texas. The success of the program is due in large part to the uncommon commitment of the volunteers.
Gilleland Creek and
Bastrop area volunteers have to say about their participation as water quality monitors. You can also hear more about the program in this
2016 video highlighting long-time volunteer Elisabeth Welsh.
Trained volunteers submit water quality data that is reviewed and analyzed by CRWN staff, creating an early warning system that alerts LCRA to potential water quality threats. Though CRWN only requires a two-year commitment to the monthly monitoring, many volunteers have been participating for 5 to 10 years.
Volunteers often partner with family, friends, or colleagues, working together to test water quality parameters at their sites each month. All testing equipment is loaned to a monitoring group or individual and supplies are restocked for the duration of their active participation.
In 1988, a handful of Austin citizens, teachers, and students began sampling water along a tributary of the Colorado River. Within two years, they had expanded to about 20 sites along the Colorado. The volunteers' work turned up potentially problematic levels of phosphate, which at the time was commonly found in laundry detergents. Phosphates encourage algae to grow, and when in excess can rob the water of oxygen.
In 1991, the group presented their findings to the Austin City Council, which led to the City passing the first ban in Texas of detergents containing more than 0.5 percent phosphate. By December of the same year, volunteer monitors in Smithville, La Grange and Wharton successfully lobbied their city councils for similar ordinances.
In 1992, LCRA began to manage the Colorado River Watch Network program, and helped expand monitoring sites throughout the lower Colorado River watershed from Brownwood to the Gulf of Mexico. The program has grown into a sophisticated system of more than 120 certified volunteers spread across the basin.