Water Quality Monitoring

The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia (CBNERR-VA) has been a leader in the implementation of water quality monitoring programs in Virginia’s tidal waters since 1995. Its monitoring programs, which first started in the York River, have since included all of Virginia’s major tributaries along the Eastern and Western Shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Read on below for a description of CBNERR-VA’s multi-faceted monitoring program, as well as the tools for data delivery it manages and leverages in data outreach.  

Figure 1. Real-time, continuous monitoring stations operated by CBNERR-VA.  


Data Collection


CBNERR-VA Water Quality in the York River: NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program
Fixed CONMON station in coastal VA waters
  • The NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program supports environmental monitoring to inform effective coastal zone management issues of regional and/or local concern.
  • Quantitative measurements of short-term variability and long-term changes are made with respectto:
    • water quality
    • biological systems, and
    • land-use / land-cover characteristics of NERRS estuaries and estuarine ecosystems.
Fixed CONMON station off community pier
  • Fixed continuous monitoring stations (see Figure 1), utilizing YSI EXO2 multi-parameter water quality sondes, measure:
    • water temperature
    • salinity
    • specific conductance
    • dissolved oxygen
    • pH
    • turbidity
    • chlorophyll fluorescence 
    • water depth at 15-minute intervals 
  • This program collects monthly nutrient (nitrate, nitrite, ammonium, phosphate) and chlorophyll samples at four NERRS water quality monitoring  stations and monthly diel samples at one NERRS station.
Southern Chesapeake Bay Shallow Water Monitoring Program
  • Working with key partners at Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Chesapeake Bay Program, CBNERR-VA is responsible for the collection, quality assurance and assessment of data that are used to determine if nearshore waters meet or fail established water quality criteria based on submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) requirements.
  • This program utilizes in situ monitoring techniques similar to the NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program (above), including fixed continuous (15 minute) monitoring stations and dynamic surface mapping (DataFlow) to provide temporal and spatial measurements including:DataFlow in progress off CBNERR-VA boat
    • temperature
    • salinity
    • specific conductance
    • dissolved oxygen
    • pH
    • turbidity
    • chlorophyll fluorescence
    • water depth
  • Data collection within Chesapeake Bay and its respective tributary segments occurs on a rotating 3-year cycle over the critical SAV growing period. 
  • CBNERR-VA utilizes the YSI Hydrosphere telemetry system on continuous monitoring stations within the Lynnhaven River system as part of this shallow water monitoring; related data can be found here. 

Figure 2. A visual depiction of CBNERR-VA’s history in water quality monitoring and related data collection in support of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) / Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) Shallow Water Monitoring Program.  Where: yrk = York, pm = Pamunkey, mp = Mattaponi, pia = Piankatank, jms = James, pot = Potomac, chk = Chickahominy, app = Appomattox, crr = Currioman, rpp = Rappahonnock, mob = Mobjack, cb = Chesapeake Bay, poc = Pocomoke, ly = Lynnhaven, ph = polyhaline, mh = mesohaline, oh = oligohaline, and tf = tidal fresh.   


Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS)
  • In partnership with NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, CBNERR-VA maintains the southern Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System, which provides real-time data streams to support a wide-range of needs and user groups within the Chesapeake Bay region (see Figure 1).
  • CBIBS buoys are equipped to measure the following real-time parameters:
    • meteorological
      • wind speed and direction
      • air temperature
      • barometric pressure
      • relative humidity
    • near-surface water quality
      • water temperature
      • salinity
      • dissolved oxygen
      • chlorophyll fluorescence
      • turbidity
    • waves 
      • significant and maximum heights
      • direction
      • period
    • current speed and direction 
    • buoy location data streams
Tidal Water Quality Monitoring and Modeling Initiative
  • Recognizing a need for enhanced water quality modeling and monitoring in Virginia’s tributaries, Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters, VIMS initiated a program to provide quality assured, near and real-time water quality information. 
  • Data from this program inform Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, aid a flourishing aquaculture industry, and support the development and implementation of innovative water quality models in support of enhanced water quality assessments.
Monitoring Estuarine Nutrient Enrichment in Coastal Parks of the National Park Service Northeast Region
  • Beginning in 2008, CBNERR-VA has worked in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) to monitor waters in and around three protected areas managed by NPS: Assateague Island National Seashore, Colonial National Historical Park, and George Washington Birthplace National Monument.
Phase 1 Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Pilot Restoration Site, Lynnhaven River, Virginia
Associated Platforms and Tools for Data Delivery

Virginia Estuarine & Coastal Observing System (VECOS)

  • VECOS is a website designed and maintained by CBNERR-VA to distribute water quality and meteorological data from Virginia’s tidal tributaries, coastal embayments and the southern Chesapeake Bay.
  • Quality assured archived data are provided from a variety of monitoring programs conducted by CBNERR-VA.

Chesapeake Data Explorer

  • A tool for storing and sharing data, collected by a network of water quality and benthic macroinvertebrate community science monitoring groups located throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed and working in concert with the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative.

Chesapeake Bay Program Water QualityData Hub

  • Offers access to CBNERR-VA’s water quality verification data collected for Southern Chesapeake Bay Shallow Water Quality Monitoring Program