Focus Study Guidance

Guidelines for Conducting WWKY Focus Studies

Focus studies provide WWKY volunteers the opportunity to improve their knowledge of the pollutants and potential sources within their water body through targeted water sampling. Focus studies target sampling to tributaries of water bodies, aiming to identify where pollutants are entering the main waterbody of concern. Once pollutants and their sources have been identified, groups can choose to take action to improve the health of their water. If groups are sampling with the intention of collecting data to write a watershed plan, a Division of Water River Basin Coordinator should be included in the beginning phases of planning.

  1. Identify an area of concern or interest. Streams that have shown repeated elevated pollutant levels, show obvious signs of pollution (bad odor, looks unhealthy), or where there is a lot of community interest in its health are good options for focus studies.

  2. Identify existing data. Existing data can be found from multiple sources:

    1. Water Health Portal - DOW data

    2. Watershed Watch Data Portal - WWKY data

    3. NatureServe - rare species county viewer

    4. Kentucky Rare Plant Database

    5. Kentucky Biological Assessment Tool - KNP’s conservation planning and data exploration

    6. IPaC - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Listed Species Finder

  3. Identify focus group volunteers and other project partners. Focus studies involve frequent sampling at specified sampling locations. There should be enough volunteers to distribute the sites in a way that everyone in the group can feel comfortable. Ideally, two volunteers should go to each site, so that one may cover for the other if someone cannot sample on a particular occasion. If you plan to write a watershed plan, apply for 319(h) funding, or submit your data to the Division of Water for their use, your River Basin Coordinator should be involved in your focus study planning as early in the process as possible.

  4. Decide what pollutants you are going to sample for. The pollutants that you sample for will depend on whether or not there is a known pollutant of concern. You may also choose to use a protocol to assess stream habitat health or biological integrity. Some options are nutrients (Ammonia, Nitrate, Phosphate), bacteria (Escherichia coli), and sediment (habitat protocol). All samples will likely include temperature, pH, conductivity, and a flow estimate. If your goal is to write a watershed plan and apply for 319(h) funding, or for your data to be used by the Division of Water, then you will need to work with the Division of Water to develop a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). A QAPP will encompass all of the details of your focus study and must be approved by the Division of Water before you begin sampling. You can contact your River Basin Coordinator for more information about QAPPs.

  5. Choose your sampling sites. The sites sampled for a focus study must be accessible, informative, and you must have permission from the landowners to enter the streams. Choosing informative sites is crucial in determining where pollutants could be potentially coming from. Usually this means sampling tributaries and downstream of suspected pollution sources. Your River Basin Coordinator can help you determine informative sampling sites

  6. Set a sampling schedule. Your sampling schedule will be determined based on what water quality parameters you are sampling. For example, if you have a bacteria focus study, you may have a short period of intense sampling (5 samples in 30 days). Your River Basin Coordinator can also help you decide on a sampling schedule. Ideally, samples should include a runoff event (during or shortly after a rain event that produces runoff), a dry weather event (after an extended period of no rain), and normal sampling.

  7. Gather your equipment. The equipment that you use will be determined by the pollutants that you sample. If you plan to sample data to the level required for a formal watershed plan, you may be required to use stricter protocols and different equipment than you would for your normal Watershed Watch sampling. Check to make sure that you have enough equipment and chemicals to sample all sites within the time allowed. For example, E. coli samples must be analyzed within six hours of collection and kept on ice or in a refrigerator during that in-between time. All chemicals should be within their expiration date and meters should be calibrated as recommended by their manufacturer.

  8. Set up your data collection sheet. Having a well designed data sheet is important. Data sheets should at least include the collector's name, date and time of collection, the 24hr rainfall, pollutants and their specified units, observed stream conditions and any odd odors, and space for notes. Your River Basin Coordinator can help you develop your data sheet. If you are sampling for a watershed plan, a datasheet will be provided for you.

  9. Begin sampling. While sampling, have someone else make sure that all of the entries on the data sheet have been made and look appropriate. If there is not a second person there, double check your entries before you leave the site. Data should be entered into a master data sheet (likely a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheet) promptly after sampling. This will help to catch errors early. Make sure that your data is saved in more than one place and each sheet is updated each time an entry is made. You should have an idea of how you will eventually analyze your data, which will help you set up your data sheet. Your River Basin Coordinator can help you set up your data sheet and help minimize mistakes if you share the sheet with them as data is entered.

  10. Analyze and map your data. The steps to analyzing your data will depend on the type of data that you collected. Generally, you may be looking at computing pollutant loads (this is different than the results you get from sampling, you will need velocity/flow for this), calculating averages, isolating peak pollutant level events (if those occur, when?), and evaluating trends over time. Mapping can be completed using ARC GIS or ARC GIS Online, if available, or Google Maps. Your River Basin Coordinator or the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute can help you analyze and map your data. If you are unsure, be sure to ask for help BEFORE you begin sampling.

  11. Choose your plan of action. What do you want to do with the data that you collect? Maybe you would like to get your community involved in addressing a sewage leak, restoring a riparian buffer area, or conducting a stream cleanup. If you find a serious issue with high pollutant levels you could report a concern and share your data with the Kentucky Division of Water. If you will be writing a watershed plan, you will continue communications with your River Basin Coordinator and prepare to apply for 319(h) funding, if applicable. For more ideas, visit the Action tab on the Watershed Watch in Kentucky Website.