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How Community Data Collectors Are Helping Water Quality

Citizen data scientists documenting algae and water conditions from their docks at Lake Wallenpaupack will play a key role in a community-led water quality monitoring program, officials have said.

Closeup of drops of water falling into water.
(TNS) — Citizen scientists documenting algae and water conditions from their docks at Lake Wallenpaupack will play a key role in a community-led water quality monitoring program.

More than a handful of volunteers participated Sunday in a training workshop at Lacawac Sanctuary, which is running the program now in its third year. While not necessarily scientists by trade, each volunteer will document water conditions and collect samples at a specific location on the lake — in many cases their personal dock — beginning in June and continuing through September.

Over the span of years, the data will help researchers understand changes and trends in Lake Wallenpaupack’s water quality. It should also give scientists a better understanding of what might be contributing to algae blooms experienced in recent years, usually starting about mid-July, said Beth Norman, Ph.D., Lacawac Sanctuary’s director of science and research.

“Involving the community allows scientists to get a lot of data at once, and we can start asking some of these larger questions,” Norman said. “Why do we see these algal blooms? What parts of the lake have better water quality than others? How does that shift over time? We need lots of data to do that, and that's where community science can really be beneficial.”

Norman hopes to amass data from about 30 sites on the massive lake this year. She used Sunday’s workshop to teach volunteers how to measure water clarity and temperature, collect samples and record other data and observations. Norman and her small team will analyze the water samples volunteers collect and submit.

“You’re basically crowdsourcing data collection, so the opportunity for the amount of data that you can collect grows tremendously,” she said.

But beyond that benefit, she argued a community-led approach to data collection engages residents in something important to them — namely, the health of the lake.

Merrilee Ulisny’s family have been on Lake Wallenpaupack since the 1950s. She and her husband, John Ulisny, participated in Sunday’s workshop and said they’re happy to participate in the monitoring program.

“It couldn’t be any more simple to do this,” John Ulisny said of the data collection, which should take participants about 15 minutes per week. “Anybody could do it. So, I live on the lake. (It’s) nothing to walk down to the waterside and do it.”

Both emphasized the importance of being good stewards of the lake they love.

Also participating Sunday was John Secoy Jr., 16, who enjoys swimming, jet skiing and occasionally fishing on Lake Wallenpaupack. He’s happy to help gather data in the interest of the overall health of the lake, he said.

Maintaining and updating the database over the years will help community members, scientists and policy makers alike identify not just water quality issues, but also their causes, Norman said.

“Without this data, or data like this, you are shooting in the dark,” she said. “Lakes are very complex ecosystems. So, when something happens in a lake, if you don’t have that record of data, you really have no idea what’s causing the problem.”

© 2021 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.