River Watch began in the spring of 1989 with two-hour trainings at six schools along the Yampa River. It was the passion of a teacher, Ed Hayne, from Oak Creek, Colorado who threatened to start something like this if the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) did not. Carol Bylsma, the Project Wild Coordinator for the CPW at the time, found funding for a River Watch Project. She engaged Barb Horn, a CPW Water Quality Specialist, to develop and implement a River Watch Program. It began as a program to collect water data of such quality it could be used for high levels of decision-making. The timing was perfect. The State Water Quality Control Commission was charged with making decisions regarding how much pollution would be allowed in Colorado’s waters with only ONE data point, or NO data at all. Thus ‘The Rivers of Colorado Water Watch Network’ was created with the philosophy of training private and public school teachers and students to collect and analyze samples, because schools will always be in a community and teachers always need to teach concepts related to river ecology. The program began with two primary goals that remain steadfast today. First, to provide a hands-on experience for individuals to understand the value and function of the river ecosystem. Second, to collect quality aquatic ecosystem data over space and time to be used for the Clean Water Act and other water quality decision-making processes.
Today, River Watch has achieved these goals and continues to grow with the dedication and commitment from thousands of volunteers. We started with those six schools on the Yampa and grew to cover all watersheds in Colorado and 350 schools. Since 1989 we have involved over 60,000 individuals in Colorado, provided data on 3,000 stations covering over 300 rivers. We have also grown to include individuals, watershed groups and other entities, besides schools, in our program. We have expanded our program to include biological and physical habitat parameters. We have also piloted a volunteer lake and wetland monitoring program. Some students have received college credit for their River Watch skills, others have acquired water-related employment from their interest and work in River Watch, and most have carried their knowledge and passion for the river environment where ever they go.