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Friday, 16 April 2021 08:57

Using citizen science to understand river water quality while filling data gaps to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 objectives

A new paper led by Dublin City University and co-authored by Earthwatch Europe’s Dr. Isabel Bishop outlines how Earthwatch initiative, FreshWater Watch (FWW), has been used by citizen scientists on the River Liffey as part of the BACKDROP project. The citizen scientists identified localized pollution events linked to sewage misconnections in Dublin.

The paper looks at qualitative information provided by FreshWater Watch (citizen scientists’ comments and photos) as well as quantitative (nutrient measurements). The frequency of monitoring by citizen scientists was greater than monitoring by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which led to the monitoring of point sources of pollution – many of which were identified by local knowledge by the citizens. The paper makes the argument that FWW can be used to fill gaps in statutory monitoring, and for UN SDG Indicator 6.3.2.

The study investigated water quality along the River Liffey in Dublin, to fill the data gaps in environmental monitoring for UN SDG Indicator 6.3.2. There was particular interest in assessing spots near sources of pollution, as identified by citizens. 

While heavy rainfall may have been a factor in the polluted spots identified, urban discharges, especially domestic misconnections caused by urban expansion were found to be bigger contributors to the poor water quality in these areas. The qualitative, or observational, data collected by the citizen scientists was essential in reaching this conclusion.  

To verify findings, the observational data was compared with data from EPA and it was concluded that the range of data from the citizen scientists as part of the BACKDROP project spatially and temporally enhanced national agency monitoring.

Using FreshWater Watch, a tried and tested citizen science methodology, has the potential to assist in progressing SDG Indicator 6.3.2 upwards from Tier 2 to Tier 1. The results produced from this study demonstrate the value of citizen scientists in assessing water quality, which cannot be underestimated.

If you would like to take part in citizen science monitoring in Dublin, sign up for the Spring WaterBlitz.

If you are interested in setting up your own monitoring project using FWW, see our FWW website.

Read the full paper:

 Bishop, I., Clinton, R., Hayes, A. and Hegarty, S. (2021). Using citizen science to understand river water quality while filling data gaps to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 6 objectivesScience of The Total Environment, 783, p.146953

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