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Citizen Science: A Guide to Water Quality Monitoring

Article by GVI


Posted: March 23, 2023

Citizen science is a growing field that relies on volunteers to conduct scientific research and collect data. In recent years, citizen science projects have been used in a variety of fields including this, such as environmental studies and public health. For example, the California Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Program is a water quality monitoring program that relies on volunteers to collect data on local water quality.

What Is Citizen Science?

Citizen science is a form of research that involves volunteers in data collection. Typically, citizen science projects are led by scientific experts and involve volunteers in various stages of the research process. The volunteers often collect data, analyze samples, and even develop hypotheses from their collected data. Citizen science projects are typically collaborative, allowing multiple people to work together to achieve a research goal.

Citizen science projects provide an opportunity for increased public engagement in scientific research. In addition to collecting data, volunteers in citizen science projects often gain valuable knowledge and skills that can be applied to other areas of their lives. By actively participating in science, citizen scientists also become more aware and invested in the scientific process. This increased engagement can lead to improved public health outcomes, as well as technological and environmental improvements.

Benefits of Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality monitoring is an important part of environmental protection and public health. Regular testing of water supplies can help identify potential sources of contamination, assess the health of aquatic ecosystems, and ensure that water used by humans is safe to consume. By monitoring water quality regularly, public health officials and environmental groups can better identify and address potential sources of contamination before they affect human health.

Citizen science projects for water quality monitoring also offer many benefits. Citizen scientists can provide data not just about local water sources, but also about larger watersheds and ecosystems. By engaging large numbers of people in data collection efforts, citizen science projects can often produce a wider array of data than traditional scientific research can. This data can prove invaluable for identifying trends in water quality over time, as well as identifying areas in which additional research is needed.

Equipment Needed for Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality monitoring requires specific pieces of equipment or supplies. This list can vary depending on the type of testing being done, but in general most water quality monitoring projects require test kits, sampling containers, and protective gear such as boots and rain gear. Additionally, for larger projects more specialized pieces of equipment may be necessary. For example, fish population surveys may require waders and nets, while algae surveys require scuba gear.

In addition to specific pieces of equipment, it’s also important to have access to a lab or other facility where tests can be run. Ideally, labs should be certified by some sort of governing body (such as Health Canada or the Environmental Protection Agency) in order to ensure accuracy in measurements and results. In some cases, it may also be necessary to collect samples according to certain protocols set out by the lab or agency governing the project.


Types of Water Quality Tests

Water quality testing is typically divided into two categories: chemical tests and biological tests. Chemical tests measure direct concentrations of pollutants in water samples while biological tests measure presence or abundance of organisms that can indicate water quality. Both types of tests are important for assessing the overall health of aquatic ecosystems.

Chemical tests include measurements for pH balance, dissolved oxygen concentrations, and levels of various minerals and metals. These tests are useful for determining the health of a waterway and the presence of contaminants that may endanger public health. Additionally, tests can also measure how much sediment or other material is suspended in the water and how quickly it moves through the system.

Biological tests include measuring the population and diversity of aquatic organisms such as fish, invertebrates, and algae. These organisms can help indicate the health of waterways, as certain life forms may be sensitive to contaminants or other indicators of water quality. Biological tests can also give insight into how fragile or resilient certain ecosystems may be.

Where to Find Resources for Water Quality Monitoring

There are a variety of resources available for water quality monitoring projects. Local and state governments often have guidelines and protocols in place for conducting water quality testing. Additionally, many organizations such as universities or environmental advocacy groups may offer resources specific to their region or field of study.

In some cases, it may also be possible to partner with existing water quality monitoring initiatives, such as the California Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Program mentioned previously. By partnering with an established group or organization, it’s possible to gain access to additional resources such as equipment and lab space.

How to Interpret Water Quality Results

Interpreting water quality results requires an understanding of both the types of tests used and their associated results. For example, pH balance tests measure the potential hydrogen ions in a sample, with lower numbers indicating acidic waters while higher numbers indicate alkaline waters. Additionally, dissolved oxygen tests measure the amount of oxygen available for aquatic organisms in a sample.

When interpreting biological test results, it’s important to determine if populations being measured are within healthy ranges. Similarly, test results for nutrients, minerals, and metals should be compared against standards set by local or state authorities to determine if levels are within safe limits for drinking water and aquatic life.

Strategies for Communicating Results to the Community

Communicating results from citizen science projects can often be challenging due to the complex technical information involved. To ensure that results are accessible to the general public, it’s important to find effective ways to explain topics related to water quality in easy-to-understand terms. The use of visuals such as graphs, diagrams, or photos can also help engage readers.

In addition to presenting results in an understandable way, it’s also important to ensure that any communication efforts are targeted towards relevant audiences. Depending on the project results and the intended audience, resources such as local media outlets or internet communication platforms may need to be secured in order to get information out to the public.

Tips for Effectively Engaging Citizen Scientists

Engaging volunteers for a citizen science project requires a variety of strategies. It’s important to ensure that potential volunteers are well informed on the benefits of participating in a project before signing up. Additionally, it’s essential to provide clear instructions on how to best prepare for field work and how to properly collect samples.

Moreover, it’s useful to provide volunteer orientation sessions or workshops prior to field work in order to familiarize volunteers with equipments used and with overall goals of the project. Such early engagement with volunteers ensures that they understand the project’s expectations and requirements prior to conducting research.

Join one of GVI’s Citizen Science Programs 

As a citizen scientist, you’ll be working on location as part of a research team. You will work directly with local communities and on-the-ground research teams, gathering data and developing research aimed at finding sustainable, impactful solutions to real-world conservation questions. Working alongside researchers and like-minded people across the globe will give you a chance to understand the broader relevance of data collection processes, data visualisation, and project design, facilitation and research. All while immersing yourself in a new culture and making a tangible impact towards conserving the natural world.

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