Explore →

Citizen Scientists: Your River Needs You

river volunteer

Remember when student filmmakers from Light House Studio told us about Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub? The documentary-producing teens are at it again, ready to show Citizen Scientists just like you how to get involved with river health in your community. In one of Light House Studio’s recent mini-documentaries, film students use professional equipment and guidance from experts to bring you “A Day With The River Guardians.”


Rivanna River is under the watchful care of a troop of Charlottesville volunteers. Affectionately known to the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS) as “Mr. Jefferson’s River,” the river runs past Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home. In 1990, a group of Fluvanna County residents decided the river needed human guards to protect its natural beauty. Since then, volunteers for RCS participate in river cleanups, water quality monitoring and buffer plantings. The River Guardians Corps patrol a section of the river and identify problems such as sources of pollution, invasive species and improper land-use. The effort is similar to “adopt-a-highway” programs because volunteers will be asked to commit at least 10 hours per year to the project.

RCS Executive Director Robbi Savage said the Guardians share information updates via social media, and are collaborating with the UVA School of Computer Science to create a smartphone River App, slated for completion in the spring. “Our goal and expectation is that by engaging citizens in the care and protection of the river, they will inspire their friends and neighbors to help ‘Keep the Rivanna Clean,’” Savage said.

If you are interested in joining the River Guardian Corps or want to volunteer for one of the many other RCS programs, contact the organization at rcs@rivannariver.org or call 434/97RIVER.

Not a Charlottesville resident? Not to worry! Richmond is home to similar programs through the James River Association (JRA). The JRA RiverRats patrol the banks of the James to document potential pollution sources and report wildlife sightings. No scientific background is required. You can access the application to become a RiverRat here, and contact Amber Ellis at 804/788.8811 ext. 205 or email volunteer@jrava.org.

Remember, citizen scientists like you help keep our natural resources safe and healthy. Look for opportunities like the River Guardians and the RiverRats in your local community.

Article by Lauren N. Colie, Print/Online Journalism and English major at Virginia Commonwealth University. Lauren is Editor-in-Chief of Auctus, VCU’s Undergraduate Research Journal, as well as a Lead Teaching Assistant for a research-writing course. She recently joined the Science Matters team as a special student correspondent.

Discover more stories like this at Science Matters and like us on Facebook.