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Harnessing the power of Citizen Scientists

Friday, September 8, 2023

TWF Posted by: TWF

Water quality is a critical environmental concern that affects ecosystems, human health, and overall well-being. Traditional methods of monitoring water quality often require significant resources and expertise. However, the rise of citizen science has unlocked a powerful tool for monitoring and improving water quality — a tool The Watershed Foundation has put to use to take action for the health of our local lakes and streams.

“By engaging and empowering individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate in scientific research, citizen science initiatives are revolutionizing our understanding of water ecosystems,” said Lyn Crighton, executive director of The Watershed Foundation. “Citizen scientists play a critical role in monitoring and improving water quality. There is also a transformative impact it can have on environmental conservation.”

Citizen science enables a more extensive and comprehensive monitoring of water quality.

“By involving a large network of volunteers, citizen science initiatives can collect data from a vast number of locations, increasing spatial coverage,” Crighton said. “This allows us to see and do so much more than we could ever do on our own. This extensive data collection provides a more detailed picture of water quality conditions, allowing for a better understanding of regional and local variations, identification of pollution hotspots and assessment of long-term trends.”

Each year, The Watershed Foundation conducts a major volunteer event — Snapshot Water Monitoring Day. Held in September, they train and dispatch volunteers to test water quality in key locations around the watershed which falls in Whitley, Noble and Kosciusko Counties.

With six years of data collection and analysis completed with Snapshot Water Monitoring Day, more than 100 volunteers each year have given their time to learn about and measure important indicators of our water’s overall health such as dissolved oxygen levels, pH, temperature, E. coli and more. TWF uses the valuable data collected to combat water quality degradation in our watershed.

Citizen science empowers citizens to actively contribute to identifying pollution sources.

“By engaging in water monitoring activities, citizen scientists can detect and report pollution incidents, such as chemical spills or illegal waste dumping,” Crighton said. “Their collective observations and data can provide crucial information to environmental authorities, enabling rapid response and mitigation measures to be implemented. This citizen-driven approach to identifying pollution sources enhances environmental stewardship and accountability. In a lot of ways, our volunteers have the capability of seeing and observing so much, so quickly.”

Citizen science initiatives offer unique opportunities to educate and engage the public in water quality issues.

“By involving individuals from different backgrounds and age groups, these initiatives raise awareness about the importance of water quality, promote scientific literacy and inspire environmental stewardship,” said Crighton. “Citizen scientists become active participants in protecting their local water resources, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. Performing the critical task of collecting data in the field provides an opportunity for local residents to take action, with us, to directly impact the health of our water, a vital resource we all depend on.”

Citizen science has emerged as a powerful tool in monitoring and improving water quality. By engaging citizens as active participants, these initiatives expand data collection efforts, identify the pollution source and educate the public. The role of citizen science in water quality monitoring is invaluable, fostering a sense of empowerment and collective action to protect our precious water resources.

“As we harness the passion and dedication of citizen scientists, we unlock the potential for a more sustainable future with cleaner, healthier water ecosystems for generations to come,” said Crighton.

Thank you to our sponsors for the 2023 Snapshot Water Monitoring Day!

Additional Resources:

Hoosier Riverwatch is Indiana’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring program. It is coordinated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Free training workshops are held throughout the state (and annually in North Webster, co-hosted by The Watershed Foundation and the Kosciusko County Soil & Water Conservation District). More information at

The Indiana Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program is coordinated by the Indiana University School of Public & Environmental Affairs. Many local lakes have been participating for 20+ years. More information at To find out if your lake is being monitored or to become a new volunteer contact