Water Reporter Now Supports Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s Riverwatch Program
Like many watershed organizations, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper knows the value of monitoring the health of their Rivers and Tributaries. The Buffalo and Niagara Rivers may not be pristine, but they’re a huge improvement from where they once were. Of course, there is still work to be done. At the heart of all of the progress is a foundational understanding of what actions needs to be taken to improve the local environment. And those choices were made in part by monitoring water quality throughout the entire Niagara River Watershed.
Riverwatch, Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring
Nearing its 10 year anniversary, the popular Riverwatch program provides training to volunteers who then collect water quality data at close to 100 sites around Western New York. Volunteers go out monthly from May through October and record data on seven different parameters:
- Dissolved Oxygen
- Total Dissolved Solids
Water quality experts translate the raw data into an annual Water Quality Index grade that indicates the health of each monitoring location. By giving each site a simple grade, anyone can get a basic understanding of the health of a site. Each year, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper publishes the health of their monitoring sites in a public report.
I can’t really overstate the significance of the River Watch program in the overall efforts of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. The program collects valuable data, engages motivated citizens, and creates a source of data that helps experts improve water quality. This year, the Riverwatch program has added a new feature — an interactive map of all monitoring sites that shows the collected data and Water Quality Index Score.
Citizen Science informing broader audiences
Volunteers commit to participate in the River watch program for a year. As part of their commitment, Waterkeeper staff provide the volunteers with hands-on training with the latest monitoring technologies. What’s more, these volunteers receive an in-depth education on the importance of water quality and proper data collection protocol.
In 2018, 75 individuals participated in the River watch Program. These people connected an even larger audience to the importance of collecting information on water quality. How? The volunteers collect data on 7 parameters (in addition they also screened for Harmful Algal Blooms). Then, once compiled, staff at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper runs some calculations to translate the raw data into scores that reflect the health of the water. Everyone works together to distill data to a message consumable by any audience.
Data for Informed Decision Making
Staff at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper maintain historic records of the data at each of their monitoring sites. People need to know if a location has healthy water at a precise moment so they know if it’s swimmable, drinkable, of fishable. But looking at long term trends gives even greater insight into the long term quality of the water. Is water quality improving? Are some sites experiencing degrading water quality? What could be impacting these changes?
Improvements don’t happen in a vacuum. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is working tirelessly on planning and restoration projects across the region aiming to improve water quality for all. Tree plantings, stormwater management, trash cleanup events, urban rain water capture programs, along with countless other strategies are investments made with the end goal of making rivers cleaner. So when data indicates improved water quality, the scientists can confidently claim successes from the on-the-ground efforts they’re investing in to improve the natural environment.
Progress towards goals takes both investments to do that work and time to let the impacts of the efforts take effect. When the scores indicate impaired water ways, staff can use that as a motivator to engage more volunteers to come help, raise funds to do the work, and assess what projects will most likely yield the best return on investment in terms of water quality.
Communicating Water Quality Stats with Water Reporter
The photos above were all captured by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper staff and volunteers using Water Reporter, the online platform built to help watershed organizations capture and share activities on their rivers. Staff encourage volunteers to use Water Reporter and explore all of the features to help keep tabs on the watershed.
All of those photos help staff and engaged stakeholders understand the goings on and health of their watershed, whether it’s at the river’s edge or in an urban center. Along with offering any interested citizens an opportunity to share their observations with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Water Reporter provides the organization the tools to visualize all of the hard earned water quality monitoring data.
As visitors explore their website, they can check out the site where volunteers conduct the water quality monitoring, explore the current and historic readings, and see the current score of each site. What’s more, visitors can toggle on all of the visual observations directly on the map — effectively bridging the gap between quantitative and qualitative data regarding the watershed’s health.
This interactive map allows Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper the opportunity to get these scores and information in front of all of their stakeholders both throughout the monitoring season and all year. The data will always be available through the annual report card as well, which provides additional context, educational opportunities, and information.
The Water Reporter Team is honored and excited to help Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper communicate the results of their incredible work to their hardworking volunteers and their broad stakeholder community