Grant to expand reach of water-monitoring

Citizen-science volunteers will soon be monitoring the state of threatened water sources for millions of people under the auspices of the Stroud Water Research Center.

Stroud will guide the effort through a $2.5 million grant from the William Penn Foundation. The goal is to enhance citizen-science volunteer monitoring of water quality in eight regional sub-watersheds in the Delaware River basin, said a Stroud press release.

The grant is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which was initially funded with $35 million in 2014 and then supplemented with additional funding in 2015-2016. More than 50 leading nonprofits are working together through DRWI to reduce threats to water quality for the 15 million people — more than 5 percent of the U.S. population — who get their drinking water from the Delaware River basin, the release said.

The eight carefully selected sub-watersheds, or clusters, make up 25 percent of the Delaware River basin and are of critical ecological value. A science-informed evaluation under DRWI showed that while these clusters face significant threats to water quality, the opportunity for successful intervention is significant at these locations.

Each cluster is comprised of three to 11 organizations jointly implementing restoration or preservation plans. With this new Penn Foundation grant, the Stroud Center will work with these organizations and their partners to grow their network of citizen-science volunteers and enhance the quality and quantity of the data they collect.

The Stroud Center will offer similar support to Penn State’s Master Watershed Steward Program, which trains volunteers in watershed management so they can educate communities about watershed stewardship and will also evaluate if, and how, the Water Stewards Program can assist in advancing the monitoring capacity of DRWI clusters.

Erin Frederick, the Master Watershed Steward coordinator at Penn State, said, “I’m looking forward to working with the Stroud Center to provide advanced training and volunteer opportunities to our Stewards so they can play a key role in citizen-science water-quality monitoring.”

The Stroud Center will work with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University to ensure that the water-quality monitoring collected by volunteers will help scientists better understand how well watershed restoration and conservation efforts in the Delaware River basin are working to protect clean fresh water.

Over the next two years, the Stroud Center will develop and provide professional-level science training to citizen-science volunteers, covering basic watershed ecology and more advanced topics on how to monitor and restore streams and rivers.

“The trainings will help citizen scientists better understand what questions they should be asking and why,” Matthew Ehrhart, Stroud’s director of watershed restoration, said in the release. “Plus they’ll learn how to analyze and interpret the monitoring data they collect so they can use it to guide future restoration and conservation work.”

The citizen-science volunteers will also learn to use cutting-edge technologies to monitor and evaluate water quality. For example, they’ll learn how to build and deploy do-it-yourself wireless environmental monitoring stations the Stroud Center recently developed.

These inexpensive, customizable, and easy-to-use sensors are featured on EnviroDIY.org, an online community of enthusiasts who enjoy sharing ideas for environmental science and monitoring. With these devices, the citizen scientists will be able to measure water temperature, stream water level, electrical conductivity, water clarity, and more.

Data the citizen scientists collect will stream automatically to a web portal to be developed over the next two years by computer scientists and programmers under the direction of Jeffery Horsburgh in the civil and environmental engineering department at Utah State University. All of the data will be available via a website designed to provide citizen scientists with simple access to visualize, analyze, and download the data they collect.

Tried-and-true monitoring methods such as the Leaf Pack Experiment Stream Ecology Kit, will also be featured in the trainings. This simple tool can be used to collect, identify, and analyze the bugs living in streams to evaluate water quality.

“We are thrilled that Stroud Water Research Center will use this grant to help DRWI clusters expand citizen science to help streamline their efforts to monitor water quality,” William Penn Foundation’s Director of Watershed Protection Andrew Johnson said in the release. “The goal of DRWI citizen science is to not only engage the public with conservation, but train and deploy volunteers to generate meaningful, professional-quality water data that can be shared more broadly across the watershed.”

The grant builds on the Stroud Center’s ongoing efforts to work with farmers and landowners in the Delaware River basin to protect, restore, and monitor the long-term health of streams. The Stroud Water Research Center has been working to protect the health of the world’s fresh water for nearly 50 years.

The Stroud Water Research Center is located at 970 Spencer Rd., Avondale, Pa., 19311. For more information, go to www.stroudcenter.org.

 

 

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