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Stream Waders Frequently Asked Questions

If your question is not covered in these frequently asked questions or for more information, call DNR's Stream Waders hotline at 410-260-8623 (toll free in Maryland 1-877-620-8DNR, extension 8623) or e-mail us at streamwaders@dnr.state.md.us

General Questions

  1. What is the Stream Waders program?
  2. Why do Stream Waders sample aquatic invertebrates?
  3. What will I have to do?
  4. Does the Stream Waders program accept adults of any age and fitness level?
  5. Can children come to Stream Waders trainings?
  6. Do MBSS and Stream Waders sample at the same watershed scale?

Training Sessions

  1. Where and when are the Saturday training sessions?
  2. What happens at the training sessions?
  3. What do I have to bring to my training session?

Where to Sample

  1. Can I sample streams in my neighborhood?
  2. Can’t I simply sample within the right-of-way of the road?
  3. How do I contact private landowners to get permission to sample?
  4. What paperwork is involved in landowner permission?

How to Sample

  1. Can’t I remove the invertebrates from the sample debris while I’m at the stream to save DNR time?
  2. Would it help if I provided DNR with photos from the sites I sample?
  3. What do I do with my samples and equipment once my team is finished sampling?
  4. What happens to the samples once they are turned in to DNR?

Data Analysis and Use

  1. How does the Stream Waders Program integrate with county stream sampling programs?
  2. What Quality Assurance/Quality Control measures are used in the Stream Waders Program?
  3. How are Stream Waders data used?
  4. How do you go from a list of organisms in a subsample to an assessment of stream health?
  5. How do I get Stream Waders data?

What is the Stream Waders program?

Stream Waders is an adult volunteer stream sampling component of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey (MBSS), DNR’s professional stream sampling program. The goal of Stream Waders is to fill many of the information gaps that currently exist on the quality of Maryland’s streams. Volunteers sample aquatic invertebrates in the same watersheds across Maryland as those sampled by MBSS biologists, only at a smaller watershed scale. Thus, volunteer data will fit seamlessly into results from the MBSS.

Why do Stream Waders sample aquatic invertebrates?

Aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and dragonflies, are good indicators of stream health. Invertebrates vary in their sensitivity to pollutants so a healthy stream will have pollution sensitive ones as well as tolerant ones, but an unhealthy stream will have only the tolerant organisms. Since some of them live for over a year, and don’t move around much, they can tell us a good bit about the quality of the stream over time. Also, these animals are fairly easy to sample using fairly inexpensive equipment and are pretty easy to identify in a laboratory.

What will I have to do?

Volunteers commit to one day of training (pastries and drinks provided) on a Saturday in February and at least one day of sampling per team  anytime during March and April (although many teams spend two or three days sampling). Volunteers will receive training by MBSS biologists on the collection of benthic macroinvertebrates (stream bugs), basic stream ecology, and safety procedures. Then the volunteers form into teams and are given maps and sampling equipment.

Does the Stream Waders program accept adults of any age and fitness level?

Absolutely! The stream sampling requires a modest level of fitness but there are other jobs, such as using the Global Positioning System (GPS) or filling out the data forms, that anyone can do. (If you have any special needs, please let us know when you register so accommodations can be made.)

Can children come to Stream Waders trainings?

The first half of training covers a lot of sampling procedure and proper data collection that children may have difficulty sitting through. We generally suggest and encourage parents/teachers to come to the trainings, select their watersheds and then take children out in the streams with them to collect their samples. However, if you feel that your child/student has a strong enough interest, you are welcome to register them as well.

Do MBSS and Stream Waders sample at the same watershed scale?

No. Stream Waders sample at a finer scale than MBSS. MBSS samples are “stratified” by medium-sized watershed (8-digit hydrologic units, in hydrology lingo). These watersheds average 70 square miles each and there are 134 of them in Maryland. Stream Waders samples are stratified by sub-watershed (12-digit hydrologic units). Sub-watersheds average 8 square miles each and there are more than 1,100 of them across the state. Thus, the density of Stream Waders samples is usually greater than that of MBSS.

Where and when are the Saturday training sessions?

Locations of training sessions vary from year to year and there are at least two per year. They all begin about 9 AM and run until about 3:30 PM. Dates and locations will be posted on our Training Page by the end of October for the following February. To sign up for one of the sessions, just call our Stream Waders hotline: 410-260-8623 or toll-free in MD, 1-877-620-8DNR (x8623).

What happens at the training sessions?

The day begins with registration, coffee and pastries. Then trainees are given indoor  presentations on 1) basic stream ecology, 2) aquatic invertebrates, 3) standard procedures for recording site location and stream characteristics and how their efforts will benefit DNR’s stream monitoring and assessment efforts as well as Maryland’s streams. After lunch, we break up into teams and head to a nearby stream to go over how to collect and preserve a benthic macroinvertebrate sample following standard protocols. For pictures, use the link in the "More Info" table.

What do I have to bring to my training session?

Dress warmly, bring a lunch and, if you have them, bring waders. If you don’t have waders, please come anyway! We will team you up with someone who does or we will loan a set of waders to the team.

Can I sample streams in my neighborhood?

The watersheds to be sampled each year are selected randomly around the State. There is probably one in your county. If you represent a watershed or community association and are interested in sampling a stream that is not within one of our regularly scheduled watersheds, contact us and we may be able to accommodate a few extra samples from your stream. If you would like to adopt your local stream, please contact the Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams program (www.iwla.org/sos/).

Can’t I simply sample within the right-of-way of the road?

No. You will need to sample farther (usually upstream) from the road to avoid the influence of the road, bridge or culvert. Plus, there is not standard width for road right-of-ways in Maryland.

How do I contact private landowners to get permission to sample?

In most cases, you can simply knock on the door of the owner of the property next to the stream you wish to sample and ask permission. You may need to try a few nearby houses until you locate the correct property owner. If you have identified a potential stream sampling site and there are no houses in sight, DO NOT SAMPLE. Tracking down the correct landowner will probably take too much time. If you’re sampling with members of an established watershed organization, permission may already have been granted for your sites. Verify with your organization’s leader.

What paperwork is involved in landowner permission?

You’ll be provided a landowner contact form that gives the landowner information about the Stream Waders Program and lets him/her know where to go for more information. You will also receive a form on which you can get a landowner signature or note that verbal permission was given.

Can’t I remove the invertebrates from the sample debris while I’m at the stream to save DNR time?

Please don’t do this. In keeping with our Standard Operating Procedures for processing and identifying our benthic samples, the sample must contain both the animals and the debris collected from the stream.

Would it help if I provided DNR with photos from the sites I sample?

Yes. We can use photos to help support our assessment of your sites. Make sure to clearly identify the site number on your photos.

What do I do with my samples and equipment once my team is finished sampling?

We will arrange a “drop-off day” in early May - usually the first Saturday in May. You or one of your teammates will be asked to return your samples and equipment to your training session location. If this will be difficult to do, we’ll make special arrangements to return your samples and equipment. If you live in the Annapolis area, another option is for you and/or your teammates to drop off you samples and equipment to our field office. In exchange for your efforts, our staff biologists will be happy to give you a brief tour of the facility. Who knows, you may have a chance to identify a mayfly while you’re there!

What happens to the samples once they are turned in to DNR?

Stream Waders samples are first logged in at the DNR Annapolis laboratory. They are then randomly subsampled down to about 100 organisms. Organisms in this subsample are identified to family level and data are entered into a computer database.

How does the Stream Waders Program integrate with county stream sampling programs?

Each year, we ask county government staff if they would like Stream Waders volunteers to sample at certain sites. We also ask if Stream Waders should avoid certain streams to prevent duplication of effort. After sampling, Stream Waders data are provided to county governments to use as they wish.

What Quality Assurance/Quality Control measures are used in the Stream Waders Program?

Each year, up to 5% of all Stream Waders sites are revisited by DNR staff and resampled. Results of each pair of samples are evaluated for comparability. For verifying site locations, all locational data provided by Stream Waders volunteers are used to locate sites using a Geographic Information System. Each site location is verified by DNR staff prior to database finalization. In the lab DNR taxonomists identifying Stream Waders samples take a taxonomy test each year and several QC checks are used throughout the identification process.

How are Stream Waders data used?

DNR uses results from Stream Waders sampling in several ways, including watershed assessments, in Maryland’s biennial state water quality report (the 305(b) Report) submitted to congress and in identifying watersheds in need of restoration or protection. Local governments and watershed organizations use Stream Waders data for a variety of purposes. Lastly, since Stream Waders data are available to everyone via the World Wide Web, teachers, students and the volunteers themselves can access data for school projects or to simply learn about the health of their local streams.

How do you go from a list of organisms in a subsample to an assessment of stream health?

In 1998, DNR developed an indicator of stream health for both benthic macroinvertebrates and fish. The indicator, called an Index of Biotic Integrity, or IBI, uses various attributes from the list of fish or benthic macroinvertebrates from each site, such as the number of different taxa or the proportion of pollution-sensitive individuals. The attributes are summarized into one number, from one to five, that rates the health of the stream. These numbers can then be described narratively (Good, Fair, or Poor)

How do I get Stream Waders data?

Surf over to the searchable Stream Waders data portion of the DNR web site at http://mddnr.chesapeakebay.net/mbss/streamwaders.cfm Type in the name your stream or watershed and see what we’ve got for you!


For more information, call DNR's Stream Waders hotline at 410-260-8623
(toll free in Maryland 1-877-620-8DNR, extension 8623)
or e-mail us at streamwaders@dnr.state.md.us

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