Volunteer Assessment Programs

Empowering citizen scientists to monitor lake water quality and engage in watershed management.

Two volunteers collect water samples from a lake.Have you ever wondered how a state with over 800 public lakes and ponds can evaluate the quality of so much water? It would be an impossible task without the help of many dedicated volunteers located throughout the state of New Hampshire who volunteer their time to the Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP).

VLAP was launched in 1985 to establish a citizen-based lake sampling program to assist NHDES in evaluating lake quality throughout the state, and to empower citizens with information about the health of the state’s lakes and ponds. This cooperative effort allows state biologists and lake associations to make educated decisions regarding the future of New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds.

An NHDES intern works with a VLAP volunteer on a dock.

Ensuring high-quality data are generated 

Volunteers are trained to collect water quality samples at the deepest spot of a lake and tributaries entering and exiting the lake. Annual sampling audits are conducted by VLAP biologists to ensure volunteers are following protocols. VLAP operates under an EPA-approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) to ensure high-quality data are generated.   

photo of volunteer sampling crew at crescent lake, acworth, nh

Citizen scientists are critical to protecting our valuable water resources 

Approximately 500 volunteers monitor 180 lakes throughout the state. Without their efforts, NHDES would have minimal knowledge of how our lakes are adapting to the constant pressures from humans, watershed development and climate change. The dedication of citizens to collecting water quality data, educating themselves and their communities, and protecting our valuable water resources is admirable and critical in ensuring New Hampshire’s environment is healthy for generations to come.    

lake with a blue skyUsing data generated through VLAP

High quality data generated through VLAP are utilized to establish long-term trends, assess waterbodies for meeting designated uses, report on state-wide water quality, and to develop watershed management and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDLs) plans.  

Read more on the Water Monitoring Page  

Guidance for Volunteers

  • Field Data Sheets: Field data sheets and checklists can all be downloaded from the NH Online Forms webpage. This includes the new sampling station form, stream survey/stormwater data sheet, chloride/conductivity, dissolved oxygen/temperature and lake sampling checklist.
  • Fact Sheets and Manuals: NHDES provides fact sheets about VLAP, non-native species, algae, freshwater jellyfish, lake eutrophication, lake/pond difference, phosphorus, cyanobacteria, Canada geese, road salt and the impacts of boats. There are also documents about how to make your own field equipment, including Secchi disk, sampling pole, viewscope and integrated tube.
  • VLAP Field Manual: The VLAP Field Manual provides all the information a volunteer needs to start generating data for the program.

VLAP Annual Workshop

Image of people watching a presentation.Annual workshops are offered for volunteers and lake residents to build their knowledge and offer training and refreshers on lake water quality sampling techniques, lake ecology and water quality, exotic and invasive species, watershed management, harmful algal blooms, and much more. Workshops provide an opportunity for networking amongst staff, volunteers and lake associations to share knowledge and experiences within this enthusiastic community. The workshops also provide an opportunity to recognize outstanding volunteerism with the Volunteer Limnologist and Secchi Disk Awards.

The 2024 VLAP Annual Workshop will be held Friday, May 10th, 2024, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the NH Department of Health and Human Services, Brown Building Auditorium, Governor Hugh Gallen State Office Park, 129 Pleasant St., Concord, NH 03302. Workshop registration is now open and the deadline is Wednesday, May 1, 2024. 

WATCH: Past VLAP Workshops 
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Did you know?

Did you know?

Volunteers are recognized annually for their contributions in monitoring New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds with a Volunteer Limnologist Award or Secchi Disk Award.   

Program Coordinator