Lake Erie Communities Standardize Data Collection for Watershed Health

August 23, 2022




The Lake Erie Volunteer Science Network (LEVSN) - a collaboration of 16 local water quality monitoring programs convened by Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) - has published a set of standards for volunteer-collected data that will empower communities to tell a new regional story about the health of our watersheds and support smart environmental education, research, and management.

Residents of Lake Erie communities feel a powerful sense of connection to their water resources and local organizers have harnessed this energy to power “Citizen” or “Volunteer” science groups that monitor water quality across their watersheds for years. However, challenges around the credibility and consistency of the collected data have often meant that experts and communities struggle to fully leverage the power of volunteer science to fill critical information gaps and support the management of our most precious natural resources.

To address these challenges, the new standards - called the Lake Erie Baseline Assessment Framework (LEBAF) - were co-developed with researchers and decision makers at CWA’s 2022 Lake Erie Citizen Science Summit with a goal of unlocking the potential of local groups to address the most pressing water governance, research, and advocacy challenges currently facing Lake Erie communities.

“The Lake Erie Volunteer Science Network has accelerated the existing organizational and grassroots volunteer monitoring ecosystem with the latest technology and a standardized framework for collecting and communicating credible environmental information,” said Dr. Christopher Winslow, Director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. “This effort has shifted the movement from isolated engagement and education efforts to an organized network of advocates armed with robust, real-time water quality data to effect decisions regarding regional infrastructure investments, priorities, and policies.”

The standards provide a framework for new and old volunteer programs to elevate the credibility of their work and chart a path for expanding and improving over time. At the end of each field season, LEVSN will analyze and communicate data-based findings to participants and the public, driving progress towards the goal of clean and accessible water for all Lake Erie communities. In partnership with The Commons, CWA has also supported the development of an Open API that will increase the visibility of volunteer-collected data through state and federal databases, enabling easy connection to decision making, analysis, and modeling tools.

For Cleveland Water Alliance, this standardization builds upon a broader effort to secure the region’s position as a global hub of water technology innovation. Over the past two years, LEVSN has piloted cutting edge technologies that empower communities to monitor nutrient pollution and harmful algal bloom toxins. Now, its members are testing LimnoTech’s Affordable Sensor Kit, an in-situ sensor node with the capacity to gather basic physical and chemical data at significantly reduced cost.

“Our vision for this project is to serve as a platform for vetting and implementing innovative technologies and standards that will enable high-quality data collection and regional integration of volunteer science efforts with professional academic and agency science,” said Max Herzog, Program Manager at CWA. “We look forward to bringing on new partners and hope this program will provide a model for other coastal communities to build their own monitoring networks, strengthening water infrastructure management efforts across the Great Lakes region and beyond.”

Actioning these standards throughout 2022 and 2023 will support the expansion of a robust freshwater innovation ecosystem that encompasses CWA’s key innovation programs. These include world-class Water Accelerator Testbeds that allow early-stage solution providers to trial, pilot, and demonstrate their technologies within real world environments through a plug-and-play approach that standardizes location and equipment, as well as a regional smart monitoring network that is informing and improving science-based, data-driven water quality management actions and establishing Lake Erie as the most digitally-connected freshwater body in the world.

Since its inception, CWA has managed LEVSN on behalf of the GLOW Lake Erie Partnership which includes Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), Great Lakes Protection Fund, Greater Toledo Community Foundation, Lorain County Community Foundation, Cleveland Foundation, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

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