‘Smart Citizen Science Initiative’ to Enhance Water Quality Monitoring in Lake Erie

‘Smart Citizen Science Initiative’ to Enhance Water Quality Monitoring in Lake Erie

Photo by Kyle Lanzer/Cleveland Metroparks

Cleveland Metroparks, in partnership with Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) and a coalition of shoreline communities around Lake Erie, is launching a three-year project that will empower residents with low-cost technology to monitor water quality and contribute to the health of their watersheds.

Bringing together partners from Ohio, Michigan and New York, this initiative will harness the work of volunteer monitoring programs across the Lake Erie Basin to establish a regional partnership that enhances the quality of community water data and links it to research and policy.

The first wave of data collection devices, called spectrometers, will be accessible and simple to use, empowering people of all ages, from kids to adults, to participate in learning about and monitoring our valuable freshwater resource.

These devices are currently being used by the Cleveland Metroparks volunteer monitoring program, and in seven Lake Erie communities as part of a 2020 “pilot.” The program is expected to expand participation in 2021.

The Smart Citizen Science Initiative will position Lake Erie and its communities as a trailblazer in community-led solutions for water monitoring through the use of new technology, data and scaled up grassroots participation that is trusted and transparent. Initially, this effort will focus on nutrient loading and harmful algae, to better combat the occurrence of harmful algal blooms.

“We are proud to be a part of this collaboration that will ultimately improve the quality of our region’s most significant natural resource, Lake Erie,” said Cleveland Metroparks Chief Operating Officer Joseph Roszak. “The ability to tap into our citizen scientists and start to engage the next generation of conservationists is an important step to protecting our watersheds for generations to come.”

The Smart Citizen Science Initiative stems from an effort led by the Council of Michigan Foundations, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, and the Great Lakes Protection Fund to advance collaborative projects that help secure a sustainable water future for the region. Additional sponsors include:

  • The Cleveland Foundation
  • Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
  • Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
  • Greater Toledo Community Foundation
  • Community Foundation of Lorain County
  • Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation
  • Erie County Community Foundation
  • Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
  • AT&T

Excess nutrients, increased stormwater and harmful algal blooms threaten our communities, and the expected negative economic impact over the next 20 years within the Lake Erie Basin is estimated to cost our economy $1.3 billion, according to a 2015 report to the International Joint Commission. Lack of sufficient amounts of nutrient data makes it difficult to benchmark current levels and assess return on investment for individual nutrient mitigation projects.

“This project is a terrific opportunity to get the wider community involved in what we focus on every day: applying technology to water to drive economic development and spark innovation around water,’’ said Cleveland Water Alliance president and executive director Bryan Stubbs.

The Smart Citizen Science Initiative aims to close this data gap. The $30 spectrometers distributed through this program can measure phosphates and nitrates that can cause harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. School-age children, volunteer groups and others can help identify sources of pollution by taking readings with the spectrometer and an iPhone app, then rapidly access their data online using the Initiative’s online platform – Water Reporter.

Beyond the technical components however, participating partners are working to innovate at an organizational level. By increasing coordination between local programs, engaging marginalized communities, and collectively identifying future opportunities, this collaborative is charting a bold new path for the future of Lake Erie’s water resources.

“Before we can solve Lake Erie’s problems, such as harmful algal blooms, we need the data to give us a starting point and be able to continuously collect reliable, real-time information using affordable, accessible technology,” said CWA’s Stubbs.

Organizers are hoping to team up with additional volunteer programs, researchers, and schools to encourage and support student and adult participation in the project. For information on how to participate in the project, contact Max Herzog at [email protected] or 216-282-3400.

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