Citizen science is emerging as an increasingly viable way to support existing water monitoring efforts. This article assesses whether water quality data collected by large numbers of volunteers are as reliable as data collected under strict oversight of a government agency, and considers the potential of citizen science to expand spatial and temporal coverage of water monitoring networks. The analysis hinges on comparison of data on water temperature and dissolved oxygen (DO) in freshwater streams and rivers collected by four entities: the United States Geological Survey (USGS) network of field scientists, the USGS network of automated sensors, the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream volunteer water monitoring program, and the University of Rhode Island Watershed Watch (URIWW) volunteer water monitoring program. We find that volunteer-collected data exhibit the expected relationship between temperature and DO. Furthermore, we find that volunteer- and USGS-collected data lie in roughly the same range, although volunteer-collected DO measurements are lower on average (by approximately 1 mg/L in Georgia and 1.8 mg/L in Rhode Island). The results indicate that volunteer-collected data can provide reliable information about freshwater DO levels. These data could be useful for informing water management decisions - such as deciding where to focus restoration efforts - but may not be appropriate for applications in which highly precise data are required. We also comment on the growth potential of volunteer water monitoring efforts. Encouraging volunteers to collect data in high-priority or undersampled areas may help expand spatial and temporal coverage of volunteer monitoring networks while retaining high levels of participation.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal
- U.S. Geological Survey
- citizen science
- dissolved oxygen
- water monitoring