Reference Documents

Methods Manual
Health & Safety Manual

Getting Started

Your FreshWater Watch kit contains everything you need to begin collecting data, including:

  • A pack of 5 nitrate water quality testing tubes.

  • A pack of 5 phosphate water quality testing tubes.

  • Colour charts for nitrate and phosphate tests.

  • Sample cup for use with testing tubes.

  • Secchi tube.

Rinse the sampling device with the same water that you will be testing, and when sampling, make sure that the device is fully submerged to avoid sampling only surface water.

It is vital that you accurately record the location of where you are performing FreshWater Watch research. There are two ways you can do this. When you’re at your site you can use the geo-referencing function on your smartphone to determine your latitude and longitude. Alternatively you can use the online map service on if you do not have a smartphone.


Photographs should be taken from the same place on each visit – this makes them more easily comparable over time. A photograph should try to include as much of the following as possible:

  • Some part of the waterbody and the immediate surrounding land use.

  • Water height with respect to some reference point (bridge, tree, boulder).

  • Bank vegetation cover and type.

  • Water colour.

  • Visible pollution sources (an additional photograph may be taken and uploaded).

Data is collected by a visual assessment of the waterbody and a series of questions to which you respond. These allow you to describe the surrounding land use/vegetation/pollution sources.

Please consider the immediate surroundings (i.e. what you can see), not the larger catchment.

On each visit you’ll make a visual assessment of water level and velocity (with an opportunity to note any short or long term changes to the site).

Water flow conditions can be estimated as the speed of the water when it is faster than walking speed (surging), approximately walking speed (steady), slower than walking speed (slow) or with no flow (still).

As you become more familiar with the site, it will be easier for you to estimate water levels but you may find clues by looking at the bank for evidence of past water height.

You will make a quick visual assessment of the water colour and the presence and characteristics of any algae.

Turbidity Test

Turbidity is a measure of the “cloudiness” of the water caused by the presence of particles like micro-organisms and suspended sediment. High turbidity can be an indication of high sediment load or high algal concentrations in the water body. Decreased light availability can influence aquatic plant growth and high particle concentrations will modify fish communities.

The Secchi tube is a 0.5 metre plastic tube with a Secchi disc at the bottom. The tube has a graduated, non-linear scale of Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU) on the side. Measurements are based on the depth of the water at which the Secchi disc is no longer visible to the observer peering into the top of the tube.

The higher the concentration of sediment or phytoplankton in the water sample, the higher the NTU (and the less water is needed for the disc to disappear).

If the sun is out, position yourself so that your shadow is blocking the sun on the tube (to reduce glare and stray light on the side of the tube). Please ensure you are not wearing sunglasses.

Testing for Nitrates and Phosphates

Instructions on how to test for nitrates and phosphates are provided below:



Next > Where to Test