American Kayaking Association National Adopt-A-River Practices and Procedures

The National Adopt-A-River program seeks to create uniform guidelines for the adoption of a local stream, creek and/or river in your community. The following information will walk you through the process of adopting a water trail in your area and how to establish the workshops required for Stream Quality Monitoring (SQM).

Working in conjunction with American Rivers, the American Kayaking Association’s goal is to bring unity and standardization to the water trail clean-up process. By gathering and tracking the necessary data required to understand the true health of our water trails,we can determine where the voids are and solicit volunteers to serve in those areas not currently being monitored by any group or organization.

The collection of this data into a central database will allow us more accurate information that can be utilized far quicker than working with multiple databases. Connecting all the already established Adopt-A-River groups to this database will allow them immediate access to most up-to-date information.

Because these practices and procedures are required by most Departments of Natural Resources, you must consult with your local authorities to see what restrictions may apply in your area.

Your involvement and generosity in supporting your local water trails provide a safer, more pleasurable experience for those who share these treasured spaces with you today, and for generations to come.

Help us accelerate America’s growing passion for paddle sports and transform the paddling community into an educated, connected and conservation-based stewardship for our most precious resource…water.​

7 Steps to Healthier Water Sheds

The following outline will give you the process necessary to establish Adopt-A-River programs in your communities.

Step 1: Registration

You must first register your organization, private group or corporate entity on the American Kayaking Association’s website, and declare the water trail you wish to adopt. This can be done by visiting and registering your organization, at which time you will be guided through the next steps via our online tutorial.  To assure accuracy and continuity, the American Kayaking Association will transfer the information provided to all the reporting agencies on your behalf, including the national database managed and monitored by the American Rivers’ organization.

Requirements for Participation

Participation is voluntary except as noted for Other State Agencies. The program does not require volunteer groups or local governmental organizations to participate, and the program does not impose sampling or analytical requirements on any individuals or organizations that choose not to participate. However, individuals or organizations choosing to invest in surface water monitoring work without adhering to these requirements could find that EPA’s ability to make use of the data collected may be limited.

Step 2: Action Plan Submission

Your registration must include a detailed plan of action, as to Who, What, When,Where and Why?

Who:Who will be participating in the clean-up? This must include age groups, local organization and municipality involvement. Who will be providing the transportation required to move waste material?

What: What water trail have you chosen to represent? Other than an already designated waterway, you may choose a creek, stream or river in your area that is need of immediate attention.

When: When is the initial clean-up planned? When will the follow-up events take place? You must have scheduled at least 2 clean-ups per year to qualify.

Where: Where will the debris be transported to for recycling, and is it an approved dumping facility? Where will the funds come from to support this project?

Why: Why do you feel this particular water trail is in immediate need over any others in your areas?

Note: Know the water trail you plan to adopt. Rivers need to be researched either online or through local agencies as to the hazards that may, and most likely do, exist.  Know before you go, is the best policy.

See Boating Safety Precautions below.

Step 3: Stream Quality Monitoring Certification (SQM)

To qualify to adopt-a-river you must first become certified in SQM. Rivers and streams in the Adopt-A-Rivers program are monitored regularly to ensure that the water habitat quality remains high. The Stream Quality Monitoring (SQM) program is coordinated by regional employees, but most of the monitoring is done by volunteers.

What is SQM?

Small aquatic organisms (macro invertebrates) are collected from a stream and surveyed to determine which types are present and how frequently they occur. The organisms are returned to the water and the data is used to determine the health of that portion of the stream.

Macro invertebrates are highly effective barometers of a river’s health because they have varying tolerances of pollution. Surveying the presence, quantity, and diversity of macro invertebrates can indicate potential problems.

The monitoring process includes seining the same portion of a river 3 or 4 times a year, logging water and weather conditions, and counting macro invertebrates. The macro invertebrate survey data is entered into an assessment form and a score is determined for the site. This scoring technique is called the cumulative index value and it helps determine if the quality of the site seined is excellent, good, fair or poor.

Because SQM doesn’t require any chemical analysis, biological monitoring is a simple and cost-effective method of testing a stream’s health.

Step 4: Understanding City, County, State and Government Ordinances

Start by contacting your local Department of Natural Resources, as they should be able to direct you to the proper channels to access the guidelines within your community. Contact your local Police and FireDepartments as well as any local waste removal companies should the city not provide those services.

Step 5: River Assessment

The stream quality assessments are performed by hundreds of trained volunteers who observe firsthand any changes occurring in the river.

The stream quality assessments can be performed by a large pool of participants ranging from scouting groups and school classes to conservation groups, fishing and hunting clubs, and senior citizens who help the trained volunteers to survey rivers, streams and creeks and observe firsthand any changes occurring in the waterway.

Volunteers fill out assessment forms for their assigned stations a few times per year, which helps the division prepare a cumulative index value for each stream station. These values rank a stream’s health as excellent, good, fair or poor at the time of monitoring, and are a direct result of the diversity of collected macro invertebrates.

The assessment data is used to produce the annual Stream Quality Report for a waterway. As the data accumulates, seasonal and other normal fluctuations can become predictable. Abnormal changes can indicate potential pollution problems, which could prompt further investigation.

Routinely measured indicators of water quality are listed in the table below. SM + number refers to a number from Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater. EPA + number refers to Clean Water Act Analytical Methods from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Links for these methods lead to PDF documents on USEPA’s website. Additional constituents are sometimes measured to meet special needs.

Ongoing monitoring is essential to protecting the health of our nation’s rivers, streams and creeks.

In addition to conducting a stream quality assessment based on macroinvertebrate data, our partners at EarthEcho International offer resources to help program participants test additional water quality parameters, including dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity and pH. Through the use of a simple EarthEcho Water Challenge test kit, or other water quality testing tools, participants can monitor these key water quality parameters and enter their results when reporting their data through the EarthEcho Water Challenge database (Step 7).

Step 6: Community Outreach

It’s important to your success to get the community involved with your project. Contact your local DNR to see if there are any groups in the area already working on such projects and assess if mutual assistance makes more sense. Reach out to local membership clubs such as the “Y”, Moose Lodge and VFW’s, etc. Contact social groups in the area such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Social media can be a wonderful way to gain attention in your area, as well as your local radio and television stations. Lastly, check out the “Meet-up” groups online for like interests, and a ready source for volunteers.

Step 7: Reporting

Submission of Data

As a participant in the American Kayaking Association’s Adopt a River Program you are helping collect critically important water quality and macroinvertebrate data, which provide a detailed look at the health of local waterways.

With the data collected, an important next step is sharing the data through the EarthEcho Water Challenge database. By doing so you are joining over 1.5 million participants from 143 countries taking action to monitor and protect local waterways. With your data collected, you can submit your data through three easy steps:

1. Visit and create an account.
2. Register the geographic site(s) where you are collecting data.
3. Add your data results and participant numbers to the site you monitored using the data entry form. You will also have an opportunity to upload photos and highlights from your actions to clean/protect local waterways.

Once your data is submitted, you can explore EarthEcho Water Challenge resources and gain additional ideas for taking action to improve water health in your community.

Hazardous waste.

EPA enforces requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regarding the safe handling, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. EPA and the states verify RCRA compliance with these requirements through a comprehensive compliance monitoring program which includes inspecting facilities, reviewing records and taking enforcement action where necessary. The RCRA compliance assistance program provides businesses, federal facilities, local governments and tribes with tools to help meet environmental regulatory requirements.

Furthermore,we’ve partnered with American Rivers, River Network and The National Aquatic Resource Surveys non-profit organizations, so that this data can be sharedwith these organizations who will be tracking the results through their mapping system. and


  • Nationally standardized biomonitoring approach
  • Uses biota as the endpoint to represent environmental condition
  • Comparisons to reference condition establish level of biological impairment
  • Capability to predict taxon occurrence at sites
  • Incorporates established empirical links between the biota and some of the physical and chemical variables used as predictor variables (e.g. substratum, riparian vegetation, altitude)
  • Outputs are easily understood by managers, scientists and community groups

Potential Disadvantages

  • Limited ability to link causal factors (water quality degradation, habitat quality degradation or both) to biological condition
  • Assumes that all the major physical, chemical and habitat factors with an empirical link to macro invertebrate community structure and which can provide an independent way of matching test sites with reference site groups, were included in constructing the predictive models
  • Limited ability to predict macro invertebrate community structure in large river systems

Sampling and Data Collection Issues

  • Requires collection of an extensive reference site database to develop models
  • Rapid sampling philosophy – approximately 1 hour field work and 1-3 hours laboratory work per site
  • Small deviations in methods can limit model capabilities (e.g. live pick and laboratory sort data are not interchangeable)

Boating Safety Precautions:

Low-head Dam Safety:

Low-head dams are deceptively dangerous and merit the name given to them, “drowning machines.” Ohio has an abundance of these killers on rivers throughout the state. Over the years, houseboats, fishing vessels, powerboats, sailboats, PWC, and canoes have all fallen victim to low-head dams.

Low-head dams may range from a 25-foot drop-off to a mere six-inch drop-off. Some dams are very wide and others not wide at all. Interestingly, the characteristics of moving water are the same regardless of the size of the dam. Part of the deception is that most people would associate danger with a dam having a significant drop off and fast-flowing water but fail to realize the danger is as great with a two- or three-foot dam face and a moderate flow of water. The dam design, depth, volume and velocity of water combine to determine the risk to boaters.

Low-head dams create dangerous hydraulics that are nearly impossible to escape.

Danger lurks above and below the dam. Water flowing over a drop forms a hole or hydraulic at the base which can trap objects falling over the drop. Backwash or recirculating current is formed below the dam. Once swept over the dam, a victim becomes trapped and is forced underwater, pushed away from the dam, then circulated to the top. The circulating motion then repeats the cycle over and over again as the individual is drawn back against the base of the dam.

Dangersto Boaters:

  • Dams are difficult to spot from upstream and often are not marked by signs or buoys.
  • Dam hydraulics are unpredictable.
  • Dams can deceive even experienced boaters.
  • The concrete walls at the side of the dam face block the exit route for individuals trying to escape.
  • Areas immediately downstream also present risk as the water is flowing upstream.
  • Rescuing trapped individuals is dangerous and often unsuccessful.

Safety Tips to Follow:

  • Scout the river and know the location of hazards. Talk with boaters who are familiar with the river to gain additional knowledge.
  • Boat with experienced, responsible boaters and learn from them.
  • Watch for a smooth horizon line where the stream meets the sky. This potentially indicates the presence of a dam.
  • Look out for concrete retaining walls which are part of the dam structure and easier to spot.
  • Portage around all dams.
  • When portaging, re-enter the river at a point well downstream of the boil.

River Strainers:

  • A strainer is created by a man-made or natural obstruction such as a tree, root system, fencing, or guard rails.
  • An obstruction allows water to pass through but stops and holds objects such as boats and people.
  • Bouncing twigs may indicate a partially submerged strainer.
  • Vehicles in the water are undercut strainers.