miniSASS — A novel technique for community participation in river health monitoring and management

  • P Mark Graham Hydrobiology, Umgeni Water, PO Box 9, Pietermaritzburg 3200, South Africa
  • Chris WS Dickens Hydrobiology, Umgeni Water, PO Box 9, Pietermaritzburg 3200, South Africa
  • R Jim Taylor Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa, PO Box 394, Howick 3290, South Africa
Keywords: aquatic invertebrates, biomonitoring, SASS


Reliable indicators of water quality and river health are often difficult and expensive to derive. This paper reports on a process to develop a low technology, scientifically reliable and robust technique to monitor water quality in rivers and streams. With these requirements in mind the authors set about developing a simplified method of biomonitoring based on the tried and tested SASS (South African Scoring System) technique. This involved reducing the taxonomic complexity of SASS to a few aquatic invertebrate ‘groupings' which would act as surrogates for the complete suite of SASS taxa.

To be efficient the technique had to satisfy the following requirements:
1.             minimise the number of aquatic invertebrate groupings necessary to perform miniSASS;
2.             aquatic invertebrate groups should be easily identifiable;
3.             the method should be robust and produce results comparable to the full SASS technique; and
4.             be geographically widely applicable.

These requirements were met in this development and for a large set of data (>2 000 records) covering the Mpumalanga / Eastern Seaboard (Umgeni Water) and Western Cape regions there appear to be no statistically significant differences between SASS and miniSASS scores. However, once the data becomes split into various water quality classes (as defined in the Draft Procedures for the Water Quality Reserve, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry 2002) statistically significant differences between SASS and miniSASS become apparent. Nonetheless, these differences are relatively small and are usually less than 1 ASPT score different.

Potentially, every school, environmental or community group in the country could become a monitoring cell, and with this geographical spread use the miniSASS tool as a ‘red flag' for the identification of aquatic pollution sources and events in their immediate environment. The parallel and supporting initiative, to be able to enter this ‘real aquatic biomonitoring data' onto an internet web-based mapping programme (see, extends the application of the resource making networking and broad based catchment water quality monitoring a real possibility.

miniSASS can therefore be used with some confidence, producing data which vary slightly from SASS, but which is sufficiently accurate to be of value to all stakeholders with an interest in river health. The increased opportunity for communities to become involved, use a scientifically valid tool and undertake real biomonitoring of their river systems is probably the most important aspect of the development of this resource. Through this involvement, live, real-time monitoring and investigation of pollution sources in their systems is possible, and the opportunity for improved environmental management a reality.

African Journal of Aquatic Science 2004, 29(1): 25–35


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914