"Citizen scientists" assisting researchers to test water quality - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"Citizen scientists" assisting researchers to test water quality

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It doesn't take a degree to help test water quality for scientific research.

Water-quality researchers from the University of Iowa are teaming up with "citizen scientists" to detect nitrate levels in the Clear Creek and Middle Cedar watersheds. The Middle Cedar group will make up 50 volunteers.

"We do have a high nitrate in our water and that's the result of the intense land use that we have here," Chris Jones, University of Iowa Research Engineer, said."

High nitrate levels can lead to health issues especially with infants, Jones said. He said that it can cause blue baby syndrome, which can be deadly.

On Monday night, Jones led a training session with the volunteers at Coe College in Cedar Rapids ahead of their start date next month.

One of the volunteers attending the session was Stacie Johnson from Cedar Rapids. She said she got involved to learn more about the quality of the area water.

"Just thought I could be helpful in terms of getting the data that we need for how well our water is," Johnson said. "[It] can be helpful for decision makers making informed decisions."

Johnson and the other volunteers in attendance learned how to record nitrate levels through test strips and how to record the data using an application called "Deltares" through their smartphones. The application originated in The Netherlands and is now being tested in the United States through the University of Iowa.

Researchers are looking to see how accurate the results are through the app compared to lab testing. One reason is that it's a more affordable test option. According to Johnson, it costs anywhere from $10-$20 per nitrate test in a lab but through the app it'd cost $1, which he said would also allow them to generate more data.

Another goal of the project is also to reduce the level of nitrate runoff through the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico, where Jones said it has caused a deadhole. There, he said, animals can't survive.

"This makes things difficult for the fisherman there. This is a continental problem. Not just an Iowa problem," he said.

The data gathered by volunteers can be found on the Iowa Water Quality Information System website.

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