African Journal of Aquatic Science

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

P Mark Graham, Chris WS Dickens, R Jim Taylor


Reliable indicators of water quality and
river health are often difficult and expensive to derive. This paper reports
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

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
AJOL African Journals Online