My name is Kes, and I started at Earthwatch in July of this year as a research assistant in the Freshwater team. Earthwatch has been running the FreshWater Watch programme for over 8 years and has run many WaterBlitzes before, but this was my first one. It was an exciting one to start with, as it was the first Earthwatch had run in multiple locations at once. Between the 20th and the 23rd September, willing volunteers in Paris, Dublin, Luxembourg and the Thames Valley got out and about, sampling their local rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and even wells. Read the full WaterBlitz report here.
From the point of view of a scientist, such as myself, a Blitz is a fantastic opportunity to get a snapshot picture in time, to really understand what is going on in a whole area at a level of detail that no scientist or team of scientists could achieve alone. For people taking part in a Blitz, (we hope!) it is an opportunity to explore their local area, see how healthy their local pond is, see how the presence of aquatic plants in one section of a river might mean better water quality than a section without, or maybe even detect and report a pollution event. Certainly, many people were using it for these exact reasons, someone monitored up and downstream of some watercress beds and noticed that the nutrient pollution was lower downstream of the watercress beds. Someone else found that water entering a lake was more polluted than the water leaving it, suggesting the lake was having a similar effect at removing some of the nutrient pollution. We had at least two people record and report a pollution event in their local area, meaning that pollution which might not otherwise have been spotted, was documented and reported.
This was the ninth ever WaterBlitz taking place in the Thames Valley. This makes it particularly interesting because in some cases you start getting repeat measurements of the same areas. This is really useful in trying to build up a picture of what changes are happening in those areas. Are they improving or worsening, and why could this be? Analysing all this data takes time, so these aren’t questions we have been able to answer definitively yet, but thanks to the WaterBlitzes we are starting to make headway with some of these questions. We have been able to start comparing some of our data to Environment Agency data and other publicly available datasets and identifying problem areas for future solutions. In the future this data could help us to pinpoint areas for environmental improvement work, connecting people in those area to ensure longer-term monitoring.
Working with project leads in Luxembourg, Dublin and Paris allowed us to really expand the reach of the WaterBlitz. It was the first time we had helped university researches to co-lead a WaterBlitz, and they did an amazing job of getting local citizens signed up and out there sampling. All of the WaterBlitzes attracted lots of local attention, with the Dublin WaterBlitz even being mentioned by a weather forecaster on television, alongside other local media and press exposure. The teams in the three European WaterBlitz areas also have longer-term monitoring projects, which are now up and running. Having this comparison between mass-sampling over a day, and then repeated monitoring over a longer period of time, can be really helpful for pinpointing local issues and then delving deeper into these. Paris will be looking at how nutrient pollution is affecting their local ponds, Luxembourg will be exploring smaller streams which are very rarely monitored (if at all) and Dublin will be looking more in to what happens to nutrient pollution in different weather conditions. These are all really important local issues, and the WaterBlitz data will help these groups to identify key areas, and focus their efforts.
It was amazing for me to send off all the kits to the people who were taking part, and see how many people had signed up. All that hard work behind the scenes really paid off when we saw the data streaming in, and got to see people uploading pictures of them doing their water sampling on twitter. We had people out and taking part in the WaterBlitz with their children, dogs, and even cats (check out the #WaterBlitz on twitter for more)! We now know that being out and about in Nature is good, not only for our physical health, but also for our mental health and wellbeing (read more about that here). For me, that is one of the best things about the WaterBlitz, seeing people out and about in nature, connecting with their local area and doing something to protect their waterways. The WaterBlitzes can be a really useful way to help people take ownership of their local areas, get out there in nature, and ultimately contribute to real scientific efforts, making a real difference for our future.