Citizen science

Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

By Rachael Graham

On April 9, 2016 more than 1,200 volunteers participated in Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day to measure…..you got it – water quality!

Over 150 sites throughout the island were sampled by volunteers from 30 municipalities as part of a worldwide effort to gather data using citizen science efforts. The data they collect will be uploaded and become part of a global data set for the World Water Monitoring Challenge.

This was the eighth year of the program coordinated by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program (SJBEP). Prior governmental and NGO sponsors for this event included EPA Region 2 Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB), the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Puerto Rico Water and Environment Association (PRWEA). For 2016, EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science & Assessment partnered with SJBEP and CEPD and sent two biologists to provide technical assistance and training on additional water quality parameters for citizen science.

For the Water Monitoring Challenge, group leaders were trained to use a standardized water quality kit to measure dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and turbidity in weeks prior to the event and then pass this training on to their individual team participants. In 2016, EPA added two other important water quality parameters as a pilot – E.coli and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Approximately 20 volunteers collected samples from 21 locations throughout the San Juan Bay Estuary watershed for analysis for Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common fecal bacteria found in sewage and animal waste. Each participant set up a test to measure E.coli that does not require any equipment and can be incubated at room temperature, called a Compartment Bag Test (CBT), which has everything required to measure E.coli in one small kit. EPA and SJBEP personnel took split samples of the volunteer samples and measured a more rigorous test for E. coli to compare results. The objective was to test the CBT method to see if it can differentiate between low, moderate and high levels of E.coli. Since rapid tests, like the CBT, are simple to conduct and require no laboratory equipment, they allow citizen scientists to screen their drinking water and ambient water for relative levels of fecal bacteria more readily. If successful, the CBT may be turned into a kit and provided on a wider scale for next year’s monitoring event.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Approximately 90 citizen scientists collected macroinvertebrates from streams in three different areas of the island – Rio Piedras, Rio Mameyes, and a tributary of the Rio Grande de Arecibo. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are creatures that lack a vertebrate, an internal skeleton like mammals. Macroinvertebrates in streams and rivers include insects (caddisflies, beetles, dragonflies), crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, crabs), mollusks (snails, mussels, clams), and worms. Volunteers were trained on invertebrate ecology, general habitat and water quality requirements, taxa identification, and use of macroinvertebrates as indicators of healthy and poor water quality. The volunteers used the SJBEP field protocol to collect macroinvertebrates and make a determination of the water quality at the stream site. Additional samples were collected with kick nets to compile a taxa list of macroinvertebrates observed. PREQB was present for the demonstrations and would like to incorporate benthic macroinvertebrate data as a way to determine stream health.

To learn more about citizen science projects in EPA Region 2, visit: https://www3.epa.gov/region02/citizenscience/.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Picture is Worth… Scientific Data

By Jeri Weiss

I climbed up Heifer Hill in Brattleboro, Vt., on a beautiful summer afternoon and spun slowly around, taking in the spectacular view. It was August and the trees were all leafed out and the meadow was lush.VtPanorama I couldn’t help thinking about what this might have looked like 10 years ago. What will it look like 10 years from now? What will it look like this fall? As it turns out, I will soon be able to get answers. The Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Brattleboro will have a tool to tell us all this story.

Bonnyvale, working with EPA New England, is setting up “a picture post” on April 22 to celebrate Earth Day. The picture post, one of dozens in New England and hundreds across the country, will guide visitors in how to take photographs from the exact same spot all times of the day and all days of the year. These picture posts are basically fences post with octagonal tops that show which way is north and invite anyone walking by to add their observations.

This Digital Earth Watch project, developed jointly by NASA and six other institutions, is run by the University of New Hampshire. Picture Post was created as a tool for non-scientists to monitor their environment and share observations. Using a digital camera, visitors take nine pictures – one in each direction and one up at the sky – and then upload them to Digital Earth Watch network. It’s even easier if you have a smart phone and can use the picture post app.

I learned about Picture Post as I was exploring ways any of us can participate in scientific discoveries at the Brattleboro Citizen Science workshop, which EPA helped organize earlier this month.

When I heard about Bonnyvale’s work I was intrigued, so I looked for a picture post closer to home. According to UNH’s Picture Post web page, two such posts sit on either side of the Fresh Pond reservoir in Cambridge, just 10 minutes from my home. It appeared the last time they were used was nine years ago. Last weekend I walked along the trail circling the reservoir, but found only one picture post remaining. I spoke with Fresh Pond Reservation Ranger Jean Rogers who told me one of the posts was removed when the Reservation created an outdoor community classroom and plans are being made to put it back up.

freshpond2007After a bit of hunting, I found the second post. I took a set of pictures, loaded them up to the web site and was able to see some big differences from the pictures taken nearly a decade ago. The once small, scrawny trees now grow outside of the frame. On the web site (and to the right) you can compare the pictures and even watch the scene animated as it scrolls through the photographic history from that post.

Picture posts not only provide information to Bonnyvale’s students or the Rangers at Fresh Pond, but also give freshpond2016valuable data to scientists. Researchers working with Digital Earth Watch network use the photographs to document the plants, clouds, and seasons—and how they are changing in response to a warming climate. It such a simple way for anyone with a camera to contribute to scientific research. Ten years from now we will be able to see the changes in places we care about, whether it’s the top of Heifer Hill, a spot on my walk around Fresh Pond or from a picture post in your neighborhood. http://picturepost.unh.edu

 

Jeri Weiss is a drinking water specialist at EPA and helped organize the Citizens Science Workshop.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Training Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality

By Amanda Kaufman

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

As a science fellow at EPA, I am working with Agency researchers to help bring local air measurement capabilities to communities. This includes training citizen scientists with next generation air monitors developed by EPA researchers. One such device is the Citizen Science Air Monitor, which contains many sophisticated instruments to measure air quality under its sleek and simple design.

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy is joining New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, and other community members at Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Family Success Center to launch an EPA-Ironbound partnership for community air monitoring that is a first of its kind citizen science project. Read the press release.

The monitor does a lot for being so small and portable. It measures two air pollutants—nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter—as well as relative humidity and temperature. Residents of the Ironbound community are using the monitors to measure pollutants in different locations, during different times of the day and under a variety of weather conditions. The community is impacted by many sources of air pollutants.

In January, I traveled to Newark with researchers who developed the monitor to help train members of the Ironbound Community Corporation to use and maintain the monitors and collect data. The training was very hands-on and the participants were enthusiastic. They even turned the exercise for assembling the monitors into a friendly competition.

EPA researchers shared two training manuals that they developed as part of the outreach project. The quality assurance guidelines and operating procedures manuals are available to the public and are part of an online Citizen Science Toolbox developed to assist citizen scientists who are interested in using new air sensor technologies.

While the quality assurance guidelines and operating procedure are specific to the monitor developed for the Ironbound community, many of the concepts detailed in the documents are transferable to similar air quality monitoring efforts using next generation air monitors. The manuals are:

The ultimate goal of the research project is to empower people with information to address their local air quality concerns. I am glad to be a part of this important activity empowering a community to monitor their local quality

About the Author: Amanda Kaufman is an ORISE participant hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national research program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Making Connections for Citizen Science

By Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Sharing citizen science

Sharing citizen science

Standing on the dais in front of accomplished scientists and professionals, I faced a series of tough questions about my program, but I was accustomed to fielding probing questions from my 12- and 13-year-olds on a regular basis.

Two weeks ago, I presented my project—teaching sixth and seventh graders how to use low-cost environmental sensors—at the Citizen Science Association’s inaugural conference in San Jose, Calif. Citizen science is an emerging field that actively engages community members and formal scientists in data gathering and research. Several EPA colleagues also attended the conference, called CitSci2015.

Last fall, I worked with Citizen Schools (also see Chasing the “Wow” with Citizen Schools and EPA Science) on an after-school class for middle schoolers in northern Durham, N.C., teaching them how we can use low-cost sensors to quantify the environment around us.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Though I was nervous about presenting an education-based project instead of a scientific-based study, I soon realized I had found the right conference. My fellow presenters also shared their educational and student-based citizen science projects. I was able to learn about new ways to engage citizen scientists and foster continued project participation. At the same time, I got to share my experiences and lessons learned about citizen science (and dealing with middle schoolers).

Surprisingly, this was only a single, 75-minute session.

Throughout CitSci2015, attendees shared new and inventive ways to actively involve individuals in quality scientific research. Data quality is always in question with citizen science, and CitSci2015 presented several sessions on how to address this, including talks by fellow EPAers about their Air Sensor Toolbox and the Agency’s vision for citizen science.

Several other talks emphasized the importance of ensuring communities are involved not only in the data collection but in all the steps of the project—from the research question to sharing the results. Chris Filardi, the keynote speaker, underlined this point when kicking off the conference by saying the researcher “should be riding shotgun.”

CitSci2015 created connections and new partnerships between non-profits, academics, state, local and federal governments and private industry. These new connections will help move citizen science and science in general forward by utilizing all available resources, especially communities.

CitSci2015 emphasized that the roots of citizen science have been established through engagements in environmental science, highlighting a continued role for EPA in this growing movement.

About the author: Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky is an Association of School and Programs of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, hosted by EPA.

Note: For more insights from CitSci2015, check out the conversations on Twitter: #WhyICitSci, and #CitSci2015. The conference agenda and my presentation can be found on the Citizen Science Association website.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Citizen Science in our Region

By Patricia Sheridan

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

Citizen Science. Two words that worked their way into the EPA Region 2 vernacular in 2009. Highlighted by the massive explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) oil storage facility near San Juan, Puerto Rico leading the community downwind to actively conduct air monitoring in their neighborhood; and the grassroots community-led air monitoring effort in Western New York using a bucket brigade to successfully champion an enforcement action to reduce benzene emissions at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, citizen science found a home. Citizen Science became one of the Regional Administrator’s top priorities in 2010 to help engage and empower communities to collect their own data and advocate for their own health concerns.

Shortly after, the EPA established a regional Citizen Science Workgroup to drive this effort. Informational interviews were conducted with community groups, environmental justice groups, non-governmental organizations and academia to identify community needs and concerns setting the stage for the inaugural EPA Citizen Science Workshops held in the New York City and New Jersey regional offices in June 2012.

Feedback from the workshops focused on two areas: having citizen science data taken seriously while providing tools to do so, and funding opportunities. The region hosted an EPA MyEnvironment (GIS-based tool) webinar in early March 2013. This was followed by a quality assurance training seminar series on producing credible data held in the regional offices and Buffalo, New York in late spring. As an outgrowth of the workshops, regional grants and national funding sources were identified and secured to support state volunteer monitoring efforts. This was highlighted by four community organizations, two in New York and two in New Jersey, being awarded grants in 2013. The projects involved using sampling equipment loaned from EPA to monitor pathogens and water quality on tributaries of the NY/NJ Harbor.

The region continued its outreach throughout the remainder of the year creating the Region 2 Citizen Science Website to aid community groups and citizen scientists. In 2014, EPA turned its focus to bringing the Citizen Science Program to its territorial and academic partners in the Caribbean where resources are limited and often insufficient to address the immense health and environmental needs of the area. Partnering with EPA’s Caribbean Science Consortium, a two-day workshop was held in late summer at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus. The workshop brought EPA experts, government, academia and community groups to discuss current science activities in the Caribbean, and explore how communities can seek solutions to environmental and public health issues.

The EPA Regional Citizen Science Program welcomes our citizen scientists in an effort to better understand and protect our environment. By involving the community and providing the tools to increase the quality of the data collected and assist in its interpretation, we can work together to achieve our common goals. The key to the success of any and all Citizen Science projects lies in the effective and open communication and coordination between all partners.

About the Author: Pat currently serves as the citizen science coordinator in Region 2, and has been with EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment as an Environmental Scientist in the Superfund and Brownfields Program for over 26 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Ignite the Passion with Citizen Science

By Grace Robiou

Citizen science is forcing us to rethink how science is performed, for whom science is conducted, and its role in our society.

In essence, citizen science refers to the participation of the public in the activities and tasks of scientific experimentation. The main objective of citizen science is to engage non-scientists by having them contribute ideas to a scientific endeavor. Basically, citizen science motivates non-scientists to develop new knowledge that contributes to a better understanding of the role of science in our society. Just like citizen journalism has gained relevance over the past few years, with blogs and tweets carrying the news of the moment, citizen science is also gaining ground. Most scientific disciplines will soon have some elements of citizen science involvement in their investigations.

Currently, Puerto Rico is home to several citizen science projects. The Citizen Science Program run by Para La Naturaleza, an independent unit of the Conservation Trust for Puerto Rico, is quite advanced. They conduct investigations in archeology, botany, coasts, birds, the land crab, and bats, and so far their work has engaged over 2,100 citizens who participate in the collection of data and the management of different aspects of the studies. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program also has a citizen science program that involves people in monitoring water quality. Other projects include the Sierra Club – Puerto Rico chapter and their tenacious and successful effort to preserve an ecological corridor that spans the northeast section of the island; Basura Cero, a zero-waste initiative; and the Sociedad Ecoambiental, which conducts activities with university students. Junte Ambiental, Mi Puerto Rico Verde, and the Institute for Caribbean Studies, also promote citizen science actively within their networks.

When a child or even an adult analyzes a water sample that came from the river that runs just steps from his or her home, or takes a nature walk to identify the species, a personal transformation occurs within that individual. Public participation in science makes individuals aware of their surroundings and turns people into defenders of their environment.

Science is, and must be, a passion shared among members of society. Science can change the world. Through citizen science, you can participate, too. Do you want to join us?

About the author: Grace M. Robiou is the chief of the National Water Quality Standards Branch. A lawyer by profession, she’s been working at EPA for over 26 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox

airsensorid

By Amanda Kaufman

There is a growing interest by citizens to learn more about what’s going on in their community: What’s in the air I breathe? What does it mean for my health and the health of my family? How can I learn more about these things and even be involved in the process? Is there a way for me to measure, learn, and share information about my local air quality?

Researchers at EPA have developed the virtual Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox to help citizens answer these types of questions and more. With the recent release of the Toolbox web page, citizens can now visit http://go.usa.gov/NnR4 and find many different resources at this one simple location. As a citizen scientist myself, I am very excited to learn that there are funding opportunities for individuals and communities to conduct their own air monitoring research projects. The Funding Sources for Citizen Science Database is just one of the many resources on the Toolbox webpage.

One of the resources available as part of the Toolbox is the Air Sensors Guidebook, which explores low-cost and portable air sensor technologies, provides general guidelines on what to look for in obtaining a sensor, and examines important data quality features.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

To understand the current state of the science, the Toolbox webpage also includes the Sensor Evaluation Report, which summarizes performance trials of low-cost air quality sensors that measure ozone and nitrogen dioxide. Future reports to be posted on the webpage will summarize findings on particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compound (VOC) sensor performance evaluations.

As they are developed, more tools will be posted on the webpage, including easy-to-understand operating procedures for select low-cost sensors; basic ideas for data analysis, interpretation, and communication; and other helpful information.

I believe the Toolbox is a great resource for citizens to learn more about air sensor technology at a practical level. It will provide guidance and instructions to citizens to allow them to effectively collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate air quality data. The ultimate goal is to give citizens like you and me the power to collect data about the air we breathe.

About the author: Amanda Kaufman is an Environmental Health Fellow from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). She is hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national research program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Citizen Science Pathogen Monitoring in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Watershed

By Jim Ferretti

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

What’s the deal with bacteria?
Bacteria (along with soil erosion/runoff, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus) are the leading types of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms are associated with fecal waste and can cause a variety of diseases (typhoid, cholera, Cryptosporosis, etc) either through ingestion/contact with contaminated water or ingestion of shellfish. Not all bacteria are harmful (yogurt contains live bacteria cultures), but the presence of some indicator bacteria such as fecal coliforms and enterococci are a clue that potentially more harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the water as well.

There are many different types of general pathogens that are dangerous to humans, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Measuring all of these potential harmful organisms is not practical, cost effective, and measuring methods are often complicated. Instead, specific surrogate bacteria (i.e., Fecal Coliforms, E. coli, and Enterococcus sp) that can be cultured or detected easily and can be related to the risk of human illness are used as “indicator” bacteria, because their presence indicates that fecal contamination may have occurred. The higher the number of indicator bacteria would increase the risk of finding increasingly more harmful assemblages of more harmful types of organisms in the water.

Common sources of bacteria in surface waters are from combined sewers (which can overflow in a rainstorm and dump untreated sewage directly into our waters) and runoff of animal waste (including wild animal droppings) from farmland and city streets.

Indicator Bacteria and Citizen Science
During the summer months, bacteria concentrations are measured at least once a week at most of our New Jersey and New York bathing beaches. There are many other waterways that are used for boating, fishing and even swimming that are also susceptible to bacterial contamination. Citizen scientists offer a great resource to fill data gaps, produce data that will be usable by the states for assessment purposes, engage their community and raise awareness of potential environmental issues.

There are a few common types of laboratory tests that are performed to measure bacteria, such as growing them on a filter, growing them in test tubes, or growing them in special trays until a color endpoint is observed. Many of these tests are outside the technical expertise of many citizen science groups.

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

The EPA has been involved in Citizen Science since 1988 (formally called Volunteer Monitoring). The number of Citizen Science groups across the nation and particularly in our region has risen sharply in recent years. In an effort to empower citizens in their community through collection of high quality data, the EPA has recently been involved in a technical role in a Citizen Science Pathogen (Bacteria) Study involving two citizen science groups from New York (Bronx River Alliance and Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance) and two from New Jersey (Friends of the Bonsal Preserve and the NY/NJ Baykeeper). The goal of this grant based program from the Harbor Estuary Program and administered through the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission was to train citizen science groups, assist them in preparation of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) or a plan that details all facets of their study, provide equipment and testing guidance manuals, perform on-site lab and field assessments, and provide a means to enter data into the national water quality data repository, WQX (formerly STORET).

Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program
Not only is this project important to the communities that are involved, this effort has provided the framework for future citizen science groups to conduct similar projects. Citizen scientists and communities may use the existing Quality Assurance Project Plan, Field and Lab Data Sheets, Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and technical guidance documents for sampling and analysis from this project that can be readily modified to fit their own pathogen monitoring program.

Another major hurdle for many citizen based science groups is the cost of equipment needed to collect the data. The cost for the lab equipment for a group to start a pathogen and water quality program similar to the one describe here is approximately $10,000. This cost is prohibitive to many citizen science groups so EPA is in the process of establishing an equipment loan program. The equipment loan program will offer citizen science organizations the opportunity to conduct water quality and/or pathogen studies with the benefit of borrowing on a short term basis (three to four months) lab equipment (incubators and sealers) and field equipment (water quality parameter meters and GPS units) plus the available technical documents (QAPP, testing guidance, and datasheets). Minus the cost of equipment, the actual per test cost for measuring bacteria is approximately $5-6 per sample.

So, prepare your QAPP, enroll in the equipment loan program, and have your group get out there and monitor!

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Modeling Cyanobacteria Ecology to Keep Harmful Algal Blooms at Bay

By: Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead

Sign on beach warning of harmful algal bloom

U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

Despite a lengthy history of research on cyanobacteria, many important questions about this diverse group of aquatic, photosynthetic “blue-green algae” remain unanswered.  For example, how can we more accurately predict cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater systems?  Which lakes have elevated risks for such blooms?  And what characteristics mark areas with high risks for cyanobacteria blooms?

These are important questions, and our ecological modeling work is moving us closer to finding some answers.

The gold standard for understanding cyanobacteria in lakes is direct measurements of certain water quality variables, such as levels of nutrients, chlorophyll a, and pigments.  This of course requires the ability to take on site (“in situ”) samples, something that is not possible to do for every lake in the country.  Our modeling work is focused on predicting cyanobacterial bloom risk for lakes that have not been directly sampled.

We are using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) data to model bloom risk for all lakes in the continental United States.  The work is also starting to shed light on some of the landscape factors that may contribute to elevated predicted bloom risk.  For example, we know that different regions have different predictive risk.   We are also learning about how lake depth and volume, as well as the surrounding land use impact cyanobacteria abundance.

In addition to our national modeling efforts, we are collaborating with others on smaller scale and more focused studies at regional and local scales.  First, we are partnering with other EPA researchers to develop time-series models using data gathered frequently and over a long time by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  By using these data, we expect to tease apart information about annual timing and the intensity of blooms.  We can also explore aspects of seasonal variability and frequency. Lastly, we are starting to explore ways to use approximately 25 years of data collected by Rhode Island citizen science as part of the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program.  We hope to mine these data and uncover indicators of harmful algal bloom events.

With all this work, we and our partners are adding new chapters to the long history of cyanobacteria research in ways we hope will help communities better predict, reduce, and respond to harmful blooms.

About the Authors: EPA ecologists Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead are looking for ways to decrease the negative impacts of cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms on human health and the environment.

NOTE: Join Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead for a Twitter chat today (June 26) at 2:00pm (eastern time zone) using the hashtag #greenwater. Please follow us @EPAresearch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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