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Launching a Regional Water Quality Database with CitSci.org

Written by: Holden Sparacino
Outreach Manager, Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM)

Over the past two years, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) has worked with CitSci.org to develop ALLARMwater.org, a database to house volunteer-collected data from hundreds of monitoring sites across Pennsylvania and New York, investigating small streams for potential impacts from shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing. The database not only represents thousands of water quality observations from the past five years, but is a way for current and future volunteers to easily submit data online, interpret their data with customizable tools, and access program resources. Since the database is open-access, data are available for everyone to view, download, and use. It is an asset for outside communities and researchers to use data towards projects we are only now beginning to see take shape.

ALLARM volunteers have collected data on their streams across the Marcellus shale region for years, and it has long been apparent that moving the project online was the next step towards making the dataset as accessible as possible. Working with communities 3-6 hours away, the shale gas monitoring program pushed ALLARM to find sustainable approaches to providing communities with technical support. Collaborating with CitSci.org enabled ALLARM volunteers to submit and view data online, giving communities greater access to the tools and resources they need to conduct their monitoring.

In 2015, ALLARM and CitSci.org received a grant from the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds to develop ALLARMwater.org. By partnering with CitSci.org and utilizing their open-source tools already in place for a variety of community-based science programs, our small teams were able to leverage time and funding effectively towards developing unique features. Elements like user profiles with monitor-specific data summaries, customizable data interpretation tools and graphs embedded on the site, and a tailor-made data entry system with built-in quality control checks would not have been possible without the starting platform that CitSci.org provided.

Shale gas volunteers have used the data they collect to report pollution or stream anomalies to regulatory agencies. Additionally, having the data available online has led to other uses of the data beyond the original scope of the program. Data have been reported on in the inaugural Citizen Science Association peer-reviewed journal, and in a census of volunteer monitoring efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region that will inform the first-ever multi-state integration of community-collected stream data with agency efforts. With calls for robust data to bridge information gaps on surface water conditions before, during, and after drilling (such as in the recent five-year study by EPA on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing activity on drinking water), it is our hope that this dataset will continue to grow and be used by communities, volunteers, and outside researchers.

The database allows all visitors to view and download data. While ALLARM and its partners already have data interpretation projects underway, we can’t wait to see what you do with the ALLARMwater.org as well!

For questions on the database, contact ALLARM@dickinson.edu

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