Ohio Credible Data Program

There are many watershed groups, community associations, educators, local governmental organizations, and private sector businesses that collect water quality data in Ohio. The purposes of these sampling efforts vary, as do the methods, quality control and data reporting procedures used. Given such a wide variation in sampling and analytical techniques, is it possible and worthwhile to consider the use of data collected by these individuals, volunteer groups and organizations?

Yes. That was the determination and public policy made when the Ohio General Assembly passed Amended House Bill 43 in 2003. While there were a number of motivating factors that caused this legislative bill to be enacted into law, the concept that the State should have as much good scientific information about our surface waters as possible in order to properly manage them was a primary reason for the legislation. Ohio EPA uses the data submitted through the program in several ways dependent upon how the data was collected and whether it meets various review standards. See additional information on Ohio EPA's use of submitted data.

Ohio EPA, using the framework established by this legislation, has adopted rules for the surface water monitoring program designed to encourage and oversee the collection, analysis and use of data collected by volunteer individuals and organizations. To promote scientific validity, Ohio EPA has established specific requirements to participate in the program and to collect data using approved study plans. Data generated under approved project study plans will be collected from the program's Qualified Data Collectors through the use of an on-line data entry system. Interested parties can then view this data (and water quality data collected by other state agencies) through this on-line system, which is accessed through the Ohio EPA eBusiness Center. We hope that more water quality monitoring will be done by volunteers, both professionals and non-professionals, now that a formal program exists and that sharing water quality data will benefit volunteers, state agencies and others in Ohio.  

The program's authorizing legislation was passed and signed by the Governor in 2003. Ohio EPA then wrote and adopted administrative rules that allow for the program’s operation. The rules can be seen on the OAC Chapter 3745-4 web page. The legislation and the rules are explicit in the desire to not only encourage the collection of monitoring data by volunteers, but also to ensure that the data is valid and useful for its intended purpose. In other words, the data should be “credible.” The rule package bears the name “Credible Data” because of this important feature, and because the enabling legislation was referred to as the credible data bill. However, the intention to encourage volunteer monitoring remains.

Credible Data Law (Sections 6111.50-6111.56 of the Ohio Revised Code)

Application forms are available at the links below. The forms may be filled out on-line but must be printed, signed, and mailed to Ohio EPA (the address is on the forms). 

Within 30 days of receipt Ohio EPA will notify the applicant if the form is complete (or what information is incomplete) and within 30 days of the form being deemed complete, the Ohio EPA will notify the applicant of his or her status (approved or denied). Under the administrative rules for the program all denials of Qualified Data Collector (QDC) status are proposed actions of the Director and may be appealed to the Agency’s Hearing Officer. The same rule also allows the Director to revoke a person’s QDC status for cause, including falsification of information on the application.

Each application form is available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file and a Microsoft Word DOC file. The forms can be downloaded and completed by using your keyboard to type in the appropriate language or to make the appropriate selections.

DOC File Notes:

If the text of the DOC form jumps around while you're typing, switch to Normal View (under View on the Word toolbar or in the lower left hand corner of your screen).

Qualified Data Collector Status

Form #


Level 1 (No Longer Available - See Explanation * )




Level 2 and Level 3 Stream habitat assessment




Level 2 and Level 3 Benthic macroinvertebrate biology




Level 2 and Level 3 Chemical water quality assessment




Level 3 Fish community biology




Status Renewal




Level 1 Trainer




Level 2 or 3 Trainer






* Level 1 trainees no longer must apply after training.  No Level 1 QDC approval letters will be printed or mailed. Level 1 QDCs will however be added to online "Current QDCs" web page, per revised Credible Data rules effective July 29, 2011 at:  http://www.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/credibledata/index.aspx

Under Quick Links at bottom right, click upon "Credible Data Rules" then select "3745-4-03 Qualified Data Collectors". On first page under paragraph A 2 a, revised rule states: "An individual successfully completeing a level 1 training after the effective date of this rule from a QDC trainer approved by the director shall be approved automatically as a level 1 QDC if the trainee provides name and contact information at the training." Ohio EPA intends to continue data entry of Level 1 trainer information into our database.  To do so, each Agency-approved Level 1 Trainer should provide to Ohio EPA a more complete sign-in sheet or collect enough information to differentiate between people with the same name (using address and/or organization) and ideally allow us to be able to contact trainees (email and/or phone).

Note: A collection permit may be required from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for biological sampling. This includes collection of fish, macroinvertebrates, mollusks, shells, etc. but does not include, for example, identifying, counting, and releasing macroinvertebrates. Contact Ron Ollis (at 614-265-6315) with the Division of Wildlife before collecting samples.

Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water
Standards & Technical Support Section
50 West Town Street, Suite 700
P.O. Box 1049
Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049
(614) 644-2001 [voice]
(614) 644-2745 [fax]
email: credible.data@epa.ohio.gov


Jeff Reynolds
(614) 705-1011

email: Jeffrey.Reynolds@epa.ohio.gov

Note:  We have de-emphasized the name Volunteer Monitoring Program on these Web pages (in favor of the name Credible Data Program). While it is absolutely still our intent to encourage volunteer monitoring, the large majority of current program participants are not volunteers. We feel the term Credible Data not only reflects the initial legislation but is more inclusive of all of those participating in the program (including those from other state agencies required to submit their water quality data to us). We hope this change doesn’t cause any confusion and welcome your comments on all aspects of the program.

Some key definitions are below. Additional definitions are in rule 3745-4-02 [PDF 14K].

"Credible data" means scientifically valid chemical, physical, or biological water quality monitoring data concerning surface waters, including qualitative scoring of physical habitat characteristics and the sampling of fish, macroinvertebrates, and water quality, that have been collected by or submitted to the director and that comply with the requirements established in this chapter. Credible data may include historical data if the director identifies compelling reasons as to why the data are credible.

"Data quality objectives (DQOs)" means qualitative and quantitative statements derived from the DQO process that clarify study objectives, define the appropriate type of data, and specify tolerable levels of potential decision errors that will be used as the basis for establishing the quality and quantity of data needed to support decisions. The planning process for ensuring environmental data are the type, quality, and quantity needed for decision making is called the DQO process.

"Detection limit" means the lowest concentration of a target analyte that a given method or piece of equipment can reliably ascertain and report as greater than zero.

"Educational monitoring program" means a surface water quality data collection program designed for education or public awareness purposes and associated with an accredited or school-sponsored science education program. The program must be consistent with national or state science content standards, provide an introduction to basic water quality principles and train participants in the use of field instrumentation, sample collection and preservation, and data recording techniques.

"Generic study plan" means a plan for data collection, analysis, and interpretation prepared by the director designed to be used by a QDC in lieu of a project study plan.

"Mine affected stream" means a water body with one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. A stream or stream segment identified as being impaired or impacted due to causes and sources related to coal mining;
  2. A stream or stream segment identified in a plan approved under the acid mine drainage abatement and treatment program administered by the Ohio department of natural resources;
  3. A stream or stream segment, not necessarily directly affected by coal mining, but contained within a watershed assessment unit with documented environmental problems related to coal mining; and
  4. Streams or stream segments designated limited resource water (acid mine drainage) or modified warmwater habitat (mine affected) in Chapter 3745-1 of the Administrative Code.

"Project study plan" means a document describing the purpose of the data collection, the parameters or conditions that will be monitored, the methods of data collection and analysis, the identification of monitoring sites, a schedule for data collection and reporting, and how the data will be interpreted and presented.

See Study Plans page.

"Qualitative habitat evaluation index (QHEI)" means an assessment methodology of the principal physical and riparian stream habitat features that affect fish communities and other aquatic life.

In this video, volunteers participating in the Credible Data program can learn how to collect bacteria data.