UNL Seeking Civic Scientists to Test Well Water Quality Across the State in August

Lincoln – A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln needs curious people.

Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, professor of civil engineering at Nebraska, is seeking citizen scientists to conduct water tests in August for a program that aims to track water quality across the state and to keep Nebraskans safe.

Bartelt-Hunt and her research team are asking volunteers to test their well water once between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 with a kit provided through the program. The kits measure nitrates, nitrites and phosphates in the water.

Nitrates, nitrites and phosphates play a role in all cellular life and are key components to fertile growing soil, but elevated levels in water can do harm. Elevated nitrates can cause disease in infants and pregnant women, and high levels of phosphorous can damage ecosystems.

“The testing is easy and it’s real-time data for our citizen scientists,” Bartelt-Hunt said in a release. “If they show that they’ve got elevated levels, we provide information for helping navigate the options to treat their water.”

The data collected by this Citizen Science Network will also be used in research by Bartelt-Hunt and her partners in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the College of Information Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The program was launched in 2018 to examine water quality and its effects on health and communities at large. The research team and the Citizen Science Network started with testing groundwater and surface waters. In the first year, 190 Nebraskans in 20 counties gathered 342 samples. In the spring testing round, 42% were found to have elevated nitrate levels and 26% of the fall samples had elevated levels.

“This demonstrated there is definitely a need for this kind of testing,” Bartelt-Hunt said. “This year, the project expanded to rural drinking water, especially private wells, because there is no regulation regarding regular testing of private drinking water wells. We wanted to provide them with a way to test their wells.”

Bartelt-Hunt said the research they’re conducting wouldn’t be possible without the civic science component. Through the program, she and her colleagues have also demonstrated that citizen science data is an accurate way to gather data. They published their findings in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

“Citizen science is a powerful tool because it is a way to gather a large amount of data that we may not otherwise get access to and it also helps people feel connected to their communities and to the science,” Bartelt-Hunt said.

For more about the project or to volunteer, visit bit.ly/2L85dpF.



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