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Water quality app can make a ‘citizen scientist’ of any Arizonan

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality wants people who are out enjoying the outdoors to contribute to the study of the state’s streams, washes, rivers and lakes through a new app.

Arizona Water Watch, an app that uses geocoding to track water quality by asking simple questions of users, was developed in-house by the department and launched last month.

The program utilizes a mapping and geographic information system called Survey123, where users log in under a specific ADEQ credential to find the Water Watch questions. The department explains how the app works in a video and user guide.

The app finds your location and asks you to upload photos of water you find in natural areas throughout the state.

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The app then asks people to answer yes or no questions about waterways. Questions include whether water is present, if it has rained in the past two days, if there’s trash or signs of animals, if there’s any bloom of algae, whether there appears to be potential pollutants and if there are any dead fish.

All told, the department estimates it takes about three minutes to answer the questions.
And by spending a short amount of time, Meghan Smart, a water quality scientist at the agency, said people are acting as “citizen scientists” and helping inform the department’s work.

The department also uses volunteers to collect water quality samples through a more formal citizen scientist program, but the app provides a more low-key opportunity to help out.

Smart said the department will largely use the data collected to decide where and when to conduct further surveys of water quality. Since many of the state’s waterways are ephemeral, meaning they don’t always have water in them, the data gathered by the app can let ADEQ workers know when the right time to go out and monitor a given area will be, she said.

The observations sent in through the app will be compiled quarterly for the department to review, Smart said.

But if there’s an immediate issue that people think should be addressed by the department, the app also connects to a complaint form that will be reviewed sooner, she said.

Smart stressed that the department isn’t asking people to go out just to gather the data, but instead ADEQ wants people who are already outdoors to take a few minutes to enter information.

“We have such a beautiful state, so this is a way they can contribute to the protection of the waterways they love,” Smart said.

 

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(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)

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