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Citizen Scientist Water Monitoring

Overview from the proposal to NSF:

This project proposes to test a new tool that uses a smartphone app to test water quality. The app relies on the smartphone camera’s ability to detect the color change on a nitrate test strip to a much higher level of precision and accurately than the human eye can. The phone then relays the data and test location to a database for access by researchers and the public. Project goals are to determine the feasibility of this app to accurately monitor water quality throughout a watershed, to assess user interest and engagement in using it, and to help stakeholders identify water-quality “hot spots” for potential implementation of projects to improve water quality. We propose to pilot this new tool with stakeholders in two separate field campaigns. In fall 2017, we will test the app with a watershed group in Clear Creek Watershed in eastern Iowa to collect preliminary data related to the app’s accuracy, ease-of-use, and user experience. In spring/summer 2018, we will introduce the app to watershed management authorities and other water-quality monitoring volunteers in Clear Creek and the Middle Cedar River watersheds in Iowa. These two watersheds are currently in the first year of a five-year project, the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), which will include the selection and construction of hundreds of farm ponds, wetlands, and other conservation practices to reduce flooding and improve water quality. The two campaigns will provide sufficient data to determine the new app’s potential for citizen-led monitoring to provide scientifically credible characterization of water quality.

Measuring stream nitrate with smartphone app

Environmental Monitor, May 3, 2018: Crowdsourcing Science and Curiosity Along the Middle Cedar River

Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 25, 2018: Citizen scientists helping test Iowa water quality  

National Science Foundation article on the project: Tapping Communities for Water Research

KWWL story on project, March 26, 2018: “Citizen Scientists” assisting researchers to test water quality




Iowa Water Quality Information System

Twitter: @IWQIS


Middle Cedar River Project, site of the main portion of the project









Graph below shows app results versus lab results. The orange line represents what would be perfect agreement. The app seems to be producing higher results once nitrate-N levels exceed 5 mg/L.

Smartphone results versus Lab Results as of 4/30/18







Last modified on May 4th, 2018
Posted on April 30th, 2018