Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Community Science Institute

Last night I went to a presentation by the Community Science Institute. (At the moment their old website, featuring contact information and a "Welcome" link, is still up. But I hope by the time you're reading this the new one they were demonstrating last night, with links to each watershed feeding the southern end of Cayuga Lake, will be up.)

CSI coordinates an extensive volunteer effort to test and monitor water quality of Virgil Creek, Fall Creek, Six Mile Creek, Taughannock Creek, Trumansburg Creek, Salmon Creek and the Cayuga Inlet. About eight times a year, volunteers measure temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen, phosphate and nitrate levels at several specific points on each creek. Water samples are submitted to CSI's certified professional lab for verification and analysis of additional parameters including E. Coli, Phosphorus and Nitrate.

In addition to water sampling, which provides a snapshot of a specific moment in the life of the creek, once a year volunteers sample Benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI) present in stream water. BMI are collected and identified to order and family and compared to a model developed by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Each type of BMI is sensitive to different characteristics of water quality. So analysis of the number of each type of BMI reveals a useful picture of the water quality over the recent past history of the creek.

In the past government agencies have not used data collected by volunteers because the accuracy of the data was not verifiable. CSI has developed "simple yet effective protocols for volunteers that were field-tested and shown to assure data quality when they were applied consistently." Extensive volunteer training as well as independent verification by CSI's lab have resulted in a high degree of confidence in the data.

Data collected over the past few years show streams in the Cayuga Lake watershed to be healthy. Scored on a ten point scale, local streams score around 7.5 - about what would be expected on a body of water with a moderate amount of human activity around it. As executive director, Stephen Penningroth, put it, Six Mile Creek is "not wilderness, but it's not New Jersey either."

Community water quality testing often only begins when there is a known problem. This project provides useful data on a healthy watershed. In addition, it provides baseline data for the Lake Cayuga watershed so that problems can be recognized as they begin to develop and mitigated in the early stages. Finally, extensive involvement of community volunteers helps educate the public and encourages residents to get to know their streams, develop a sense of protectiveness and take pride in their quality.

[Cross posted at Five Wells.]


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