Thursday, September 29, 2011

Citizen Science Watches the Waters with the EPA

Photo Courtesy: U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency
Last week I posted an opinion piece about the use of bounties in citizen science and how citizen scientists could be rewarded for performing certain data collection tasks.  For example, earning a small amount of money for analyzing pollution in a set number of streams.   Depending on how financially valuable the data is, companies such as mining companies or home developers could afford to pay for this data as part of their environmental permitting or remediation duties.  Sadly that day is not yet here despite our efforts to create it.  However, there are models for how they can be put together and today we look at an important one, the EPA's Volunteer Environmental Monitoring Programs.

To quote the EPA's web site, "Volunteer water monitors build community awareness of pollution problems, help identify and restore problem sites, become advocates for their watersheds and increase the amount of needed water quality information available on our waters."  They receive training in pollution prevention,  provide data for waters that may otherwise be unassessed, and increase the amount of water quality information available to decision makers at all levels of government. Additionally, "Among the uses of volunteer data are delineating and characterizing watersheds, screening for water quality problems, and measuring baseline conditions and trends."  So it is the perfect opportunity for citizen scientists concerned about local water quality and the ecology of their neighborhoods.  Training and equipment are provided by many of the chapters, as well as a full organizational infrastructure to coordinate everyone's work, ensure high quality data, and keep everyone motivated to see the project through.

If this sounds familiar it should; it is very similar to the Skywarn program run by the National Weather Service(which we'll be talking about much more next week). Like the Skywarn program, this is not just a single project but  a collection of projects across the country. Large and small, each is devoted to monitoring wetlands and bodies of water in a certain geographic area. Technical and organizational assistance is sometimes provided by the government but the passion, and work, all come from a concerned citizen scientists. Many projects are also done in close coordination with State and local government agencies though this isn't always the case. These others evolve from the concerns of public citizens, interests of local firms, and mission of local non-profit organizations.

Getting Started is Easy:
That's all there is to it!  I admit this one has less detail than other project descriptions, but that's only because every local project is different.  Some are concerned with pH monitoring, some with tracing individual chemicals or harmful microbes, while others are concerned with fish surveys or remediation work.  And the good view is there's something for everyone.  So pull out your best galoshes, find a local group, get involved, make new friends, and be sure to have fun!