Whats in Your Water – KCWaterBug

By Jeffery Robichaud

Last week EPA Headquarters released a new app entitled How’s My Waterway.  If you live in Kansas City, you also have access to another new application with the catchy name KCWaterBug.

Several years ago, EPA’s Kansas City office embraced a goal of reconnecting citizens in urban environments to their local waters.  Initially this involved the establishment of a website and collaborative group (KCWaters.org) in concert with the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC), where citizens could access information and data on the lakes and streams in their neighborhoods, from multiple agencies and groups in one simple location.  

In 2011, EPA embarked upon a second phase of the project; to provide real-time awareness of the quality of local waters so citizens could make informed decisions about recreation.  Scientists at United States Geological Survey in Lawrence, Kansas had developed an innovative approach for estimating bacteria concentrations based on basic water quality parameters (which can be seen here).  Building on EPA’s existing Kansas City Urban Stream Monitoring network,  EPA scientists collected paired e-coli and turbidity samples over the course of 2011, to develop a dataset sufficient to establish the necessary relationship.  Next, EPA installed real-time water quality monitoring stations using in-stream probes and satellite telemetry. 


Data from the stations is transmitted once an hour via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES satellites  to servers at the University of Missouri Kansas City, where estimated E-coli concentrations are calculated using turbidity measurements and regression equations for each monitoring location (the graph below shows turbidity and estimated E-coli within the database). 


An hourly average estimated E-coli concentration is calculated and each stream is assigned a colored code based on an index tied to health protective levels (shown below). 

Blue denotes that the water is estimated to have E-coli concentrations that are acceptable for all forms of recreation including swimming, while Red denotes contact with water is not advised.  (Green portrays water that is acceptable for wading and splashing while Yellow denotes water that is acceptable for activities which minimally contact water).  The index was established through consideration of USEPA, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and Missouri Department of Natural Resources water quality criteria for bacteria.

You can download the app for free from both the iTunes store  for apple mobile devices and Google Play for Android devices.  But make sure and hurry up and download these soon, since the weather is starting to get cold and we will be pulling the probes out of the water before too long.  Next Spring we are adding seven more streams to the network, but until then get out and enjoy a walk along your local creek.  You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.  He uses KCWaterBug on his iPad before taking the family dog for a walk along Line Creek.