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Water quality monitoring effort begins for Lake Erie

Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA), in partnership with the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF) 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.

The Smart Citizen Science Initiative will be introduced to the public on Wednesday with a webinar led by CWA that will outline how community members and organizational partners can get engaged in 2021. Participants can register at clevelandwateralliance.org/webinar.

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 build a regional movement that increases 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.

The idea for these spectrometers came from a winning team from the University of Akron, who participated in CWA’s biannual Erie Hack competition in 2017. These devices are currently being used by volunteer monitoring programs in seven Lake Erie communities as part of a 2020 “pilot” and the program is expected to expand participation in 2021.

Michael Jabot, PhD. of SUNY Fredonia, and Dave McCoy, Watershed Coordinator at Chautauqua County are leading efforts in northern Chautauqua County.

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 add more might to the fight against harmful algal blooms that can make our drinking water undrinkable. “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 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.

Diane Hannum, NCCF executive director, stated, “Our Board of Directors recognizes that our impact in the community is significantly more when we collaborate with like-minded organizations and individuals. We are grateful for the Cleveland Water Alliance’s leadership and coordination and for the time, energy, and expertise that Michael Jabot and Dave McCoy are committing to the project locally.”

Nutrient loading 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. The Smart Citizen Science Initiative aims to close this data gap.

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 mherzog@clewa.org or 216.282.3400. “Before we can solve Lake Erie’s problems, such as harmful algal blooms,” CWA’s Stubbs said, “we need the data to give us a starting point and be able to continuously collect reliable, real-time information using affordable, accessible technology.”

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