Friends of Blackwater visited a high school class in Garrett County last week to help students program remote sensors that can be used to monitor water quality. These sensors will be installed along Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Blackwater River, to improve Friends of Blackwater’s water quality program.
Usually, monitoring water quality means getting someone out in the field to take measurements or samples, and this commitment of time means that we can only do it once a month. Sensors installed in the waterway, however, can collect data pretty much continuously, giving us many more data points and capturing day-to-day variations in water quality that might otherwise be missed.
Until recently these remote sensors were thousands of dollars – much too expensive for a small non-profit. In the last few years, do-it-yourself kits made constructing the sensor systems cheaper and open-source software cut digital costs. The students got a chance to edit the code for the sensor, changing how often it collected and transmitted data and playing around with other settings. They will also be working with tools to construct a secure, field-ready housing for the sensor.
At the beginning of the lesson students learned some basic principles of water quality, like designated use, concentration vs. load, and pollution limits. We hope to have the chance to get out in the field with students to download the data off the installed sensors. In some areas, you can download the data via cellphone network and therefore avoid going out to every site, but with the weak cell reception in Tucker County that is not likely to be a viable option for us.